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The Rev. Odell Cleveland: A new Medicaid system helps N.C. treat everyone like family
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The Rev. Odell Cleveland: A new Medicaid system helps N.C. treat everyone like family

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When she was just 25 years old, my mother — the rock of our family — had a massive stroke. While we had insurance, as a Black woman in the South, she faced limitations to not only access to health care but also quality health services due to racial bias. While she survived, she lived with severe health complications from that point on, drastically changing life for our family.

The rest of us had to step up to fill her shoes, taking on the daily tasks of running a household headed by a divorced single mother with four children. This meant caring for one another as well as for our mother. Nothing can prepare you for that, and I would be lying if I said it was easy, but we all pulled together and helped out — because, though she never stopped caring and providing for our family, we knew our mother needed us.

Of course, we are not unique. There are people and families all over our state who have had to care for loved ones after unexpected health problems. According to the AARP, more than 1.3 million North Carolinians are family caregivers, providing approximately 1.1 billion hours of care for family and friends. I am now my mother’s caretaker, returning the care she continued to give after her life-changing event.

As a pastor, I strongly believe that everyone deserves access to quality health care, and that our state should use the same teamwork on our citizens as my family did for my mother. Accordingly, I am an ardent supporter of North Carolina’s transition to the Managed Care model of Medicaid administration. Medicaid Managed Care allows our state to take a whole-person, all-factor, team-based approach to providing health care to beneficiaries, leading to better health outcomes for them and less strain on their families.

The emphasis on whole-person care is an important, necessary shift. Research indicates that societal and environmental factors directly affect as much as 80% of someone’s health. Rather than treating a series of symptoms, Medicaid beneficiaries in North Carolina now have greater access to resources that treat the root causes of their illnesses and help them avoid those illnesses in the first place. I hear firsthand from my congregation and community about the problems they face, like access to nutritious meals, healthy living situations and emotional well-being. With the transition to a Managed Care system, these factors can now be part of someone’s treatment.

Similarly, the team-based approach that Managed Care opens to beneficiaries is a tremendous improvement. I am my mother’s primary caretaker and oversee her medical decisions. Trust me when I say that the ability to work with family care teams to discuss health factors and ensure proper care has been a lifesaver for me and my mother. One of the main benefits of the Managed Care model is that it allows health teams to consider and recommend — or even find — resources to help deal with the causes of serious health issues as well as aid caretakers in providing ongoing care. Even prior to her stroke, my mother knew something was going to happen, and had she been able to work with a well-coordinated health team, perhaps her health outcome could have been managed better or even avoided.

My family’s story and my work as a pastor are the reasons I became a public health advocate, and they motivate me to make sure everyone has access to high-quality health care. I joined the North Carolina for Better Medicaid coalition to fight for a system that looks out for people before and after — not just during — major health events and uses teamwork to care for them.

After all, we should care for our neighbors the way we would want them to care for us.

The Rev. Odell Cleveland is chief administrative officer of Mount Zion Baptist Church Greensboro and president of Cal Tee Solutions LLC, which addresses social ills with business solutions. He also is an author and speaker.

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