If Access Carroll did not provide medical, dental, and behavioral health services, thousands of Carroll residents would likely be forced to rely on emergency room visits for primary care.
“I really feel that we would have a huge spike in people going back to the emergency department," executive director Tammy Black said in an interview.
Or not receiving health care at all, she said.
Black would know. She’s been a nurse in the emergency room.
“I saw it firsthand,” she said.
Access Carroll Integrated Health Care opened its doors in 2005 on Locust Lane in Westminster with five staff members, including Black, and a goal of serving uninsured and low-income residents of Carroll County, Black said. The goal hasn’t changed, but other aspects have. Paid staff grew to 27, volunteers number more than 200, and in 2012 the nonprofit moved to 10 Distillery Drive, Suite 200, Black said.
Access Carroll is one of five beneficiaries of Holiday Hope, the Carroll County Times’ annual campaign aimed at driving donations to organizations that help those in need in the Carroll County community. In addition to Access Carroll, the Times also raises funds for Carroll County Food Sunday, Carroll Hospice, Neighbors in Need Year Round and The Shepherd’s Staff.
This year, the Holiday Hope campaign goal is to raise $125,000 for the five organizations. The Times is again partnering with Carroll Community Bank and donations should be mailed to or dropped off at their 1010 Baltimore Blvd. location in Westminster.
Access Carroll works with the Carroll County Health Department, Carroll Hospital, LifeBridge Health, and The Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County Inc., according to Black.
Access Carroll serves about 10,000 people per year and targets a population of about 24,000 residents who are considered “high risk” by the county Health Department and use the emergency department of the hospital for primary care, according to Black.
Some of the people who come to Access Carroll have not seen a physician or dentist in years, Black said.
Services are provided on a sliding fee scale, and Access Carroll accepts Maryland Medicaid insurance, according to Black.
In order to keep serving the community, Black said Access Carroll needs “the community to wrap its arms around us."
“We don’t have luxurious federal funding here," Black said. “We exclusively depend on our community to support our needs.”
But just because Access Carroll relies on the generosity of others does not mean the quality of care is anything less than what someone would experience at a typical doctor’s office. If anything, it makes staff work harder, according to Monica Borle, manager of medical services and coordinator of addictions medicine.
“You’re fighting for them because they have the bare minimum or nothing," Borle said. “Sometimes they need someone to battle for them.”
Access Carroll takes a holistic approach to health care, according to Black. When staff sees a patient, they screen for depression, drug abuse, and ask if they have access to the medication they need, ask how many meals they’re eating, and more questions to learn whether that patient should be connected to other services, Black said.
At Access Carroll, nurses and social workers work together. Black said patients are sometimes connected to social services, the food bank, or other agencies to get them the help they need. High blood pressure, diabetes, and addiction are three of the most frequent reasons patients come to Access Carroll, according to Black. The nonprofit has about 22,000 patient visits a year, she said.
Rosita Torres of Westminster started coming to Access Carroll in April. One day in November, she chatted with Borle about Thanksgiving plans while getting her blood pressure checked.
“They actually take the time to get to know you,” Torres said. “They care about you.”
Black recalled a time when a big, burly man covered in tattoos came to Access Carroll for help. Seemingly taken aback by the office’s professional appearance, he looked around and asked her, Do we really deserve all this?
Black wants people to know they do deserve quality health care.
“You deserve the best,” Black said. “You are worth it because you are not a mistake.”
Donations to Holiday Hope will go directly to patient care, according to Black. The nonprofit doesn’t even spend money on advertising, and relies on word-of-mouth, because any funds it has are needed for patient care, she said. Access Carroll needs professional assistance such as physicians who donate their time, as well as volunteers to keep the facility clean.