Helping a Neighborhood Heal
Nine Years after Katrina, a Single Clinic Returns Healthcare to Lower Ninth Ward
Warrenetta Banks still coordinates volunteers who visit from around the world to help rebuild her Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood from Hurricane Katrina’s destruction. “Everybody I knew and everybody my children knew and everybody my parents knew, we lost it all,” Banks says.
As she lists her community’s loss of houses, schools, churches, fire and police stations, she laments the neighborhood health clinics washed away by the flood. Banks was relieved when Baptist Community Health Services opened on St. Claude Avenue in February 2014. BCM support helped create the only medical clinic in the Lower Ninth Ward.
At the helm of the primary care clinic is Medical Director Dr. Hannah Pounds. Pounds, an internist and Metairie native is joined by New Orleanian Dr. Elizabeth Goodly, a family medicine specialist with pediatric and obstetrics training. The two physicians work with a team of medical and business staff in a clinic that hosted more than 1,000 patients in its first year serving an age range from cradle to grandparenthood.
With BCM’s assistance, BCHS began providing behavioral health services, and has applied for status as a Federally Qualified Health Center. The designation provides clinics with ongoing federal grants and special payment rates under Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs. Since 2007 BCM has led the establishment of FQHCs in Greater New Orleans to develop neighborhood-based primary care in medically underserved, low-income communities. The facility in the Lower Nine was just one of BCM’s efforts to expand neighborhood healthcare in 2014. Its partnerships helped St. Thomas Community Health Center grow to a new location at Columbia Parc in Gentilly, and Access Health Louisiana open a second St. Tammany Parish FQHC in Covington.
In the Lower Nine, Dr. Pounds says the vast majority of patients seek care for obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Through their diagnosis and treatment at the clinic and the work staff does to engage neighbors at community events, Pounds notices positive results. “I think that we are seeing community members more motivated to prioritize their health and to both seek health care within our clinic but also to pursue a healthier life outside of the clinic,” says Pounds. She recalls bumping into a group of patients at a meeting. “Before we could get past our hugs and greetings, they were telling me, Dr. Pounds, I’m walking up to 5 miles a day, I’ve gone from 1 mile to 5 miles in the morning and I’m feeling so much better.”
Banks was one of the neighbors in that encounter excited to tell Dr. Pounds about her walks. She says the doctors of BCHS do much more than monitor her health. “You’re not just my patient,” she says to describe her physician.
“I’m a part of this community, you’re a part of this community, and this community is a family.”
Pounds believes the Christian clinic helps the community with not just medical, but spiritual care. “We’re an organization that’s passionate about meeting the physical needs of our neighbors and as an expression of the love of Christ, we build relationships with our patients.”
For Pounds and Banks, appointments include prayer. “The first time Dr. Pounds asked me can she pray with me afterwards, I felt like I had that connection” says Banks. “It makes a huge difference.” There’s another important difference for Banks. When she hosts Lower Ninth Ward rebuilding missions, there’s finally treatment in the neighborhood for a volunteer who twists an ankle or gets stung by a bee.