Durham, N.C. — Dr. Sharon Elliot Bynum says that her vision of free health care for at-risk populations has become even more important than when she founded a Durham nonprofit 14 years ago.
"Health care costs are skyrocketing. People are losing jobs, so that means they're not going to have insurance coverage. They're going to have to go somewhere," Bynum said.
For Eric Harry, that place was the offices of Bynum's nonprofit, CAARE, Inc. Harry hadn't seen a doctor in three years.
"I'm working part-time and can't afford health insurance," Harry said.
He was among patients offered free tests for blood pressure, blood sugar, HIV – as well as, for women, free mammograms, pap smears and hemacol tests.
Bynum said she founded CAARE to provide free, comprehensive health care, from prevention to diagnosis.
"The doctor often times might say, 'I want you to lose 10 pounds.' But they don't give them a membership to the Y," Bynum said.
At CAARE, though, patients with a recommendation to lose weight have access to a weight room. A personal trainer volunteers there, and there are free classes for seniors. Food is given to those who need it, along with nutrition classes and healthy recipes.
The charity also offers substance-abuse classes and what CAARE calls case management to help people manage complex health issues.
The point, Bynum said, is to offer comprehensive prescriptions for people's health problems.
"People don't present (themselves) to us and say, 'I am diabetes.' They present (themselves) to us as, 'I am a diabetic, and I'm having problems playing for my medicine. I'm not able to pay all my rent. ... I need food that will fit into my diabetes program,'" she said.
CAARE volunteers go into the community, too. Knocking on doors, they help educate the community on disease prevention, help people find housing and give them transportation.
"It's not magic. It's just listening to what their greatest needs are and trying to find a way to meet those needs," Bynum said.
And whenever she helps a person through, Bynum said, she sees the fruits of CAARE.
"They're relieved. They're relieved not to have to get in their car or on the bus and go in different parts of town just to access and connect (to) services," she said.
Bynum's constant to vision is for CAARE to bring what people need together all in one place and in one stop.
"There are so many needs that we can meet in our community for the people who need it the most," Bynum said.