Our Daughters of Charity, an organization older than New Orleans itself, and operating within the city for more than half of its history was founded in the 1600s by St. Vincent de Paul. This rural priest became concerned when visiting a sick family that their farm would fall into disrepair and called on his congregation to step up in order to assist this family in maintaining their livelihood while they recovered. Much to his surprise, his community jumped at the offer, showering the family with assistance in the form of food, caring for their livestock, and his idea began to evolve. Through his inspiration the Daughters of Charity were formed in Paris, working directly with the people of their communities where they lived, making an impact by really considering where their patients lived and worked.
The nuns and healthcare providers associated with Our Daughters of Charity lend a hand in many areas of public health and population health, founding hospitals and orphanages in many countries, including the first hospital west of the Mississippi River. With their unyielding focus on community health, this organization has evolved even further to what we see today, hard workers in the Big Easy, establishing comprehensive health centers in underserved areas to fill the gaps left behind, especially after Katrina. In fact, the Daughters of Charity–which is now a recognized Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) — is an extensive network of care centers which opened several locations in the NOLA area just one month after Katrina decimated 80% of the healthcare entities in Orleans parish. The organization, lead now by CEO Michael Griffin, a doctoral student in the UAB School of Health Professions, has since opened 10 health centers spread throughout the greater New Orleans area.
The Carrollton Healthcare Facility, in particular, has an interesting renovation story. The current building was formerly a Chase Bank that sat just below sea level. After Katrina, any renovations to buildings over a certain square footage and new buildings had to be built at a higher level. The health center was built around, and above the old bank leading to an interesting series of stairs and elevators to get around the clinic. One hallway even takes you past the old bank vault! What a great metaphor for their work the center does in securing the health and well-being of their clients! Unfortunately, the vault is below sea level and would not be an appropriate safe space during hurricanes or flooding, but it would be great during tornados!
The organization impressively covers a wide array of services in their health centers; adult, pediatric, diagnostic, pharmacy, dental, chronic disease management and prevention, optometry, women’s health, behavioral health, counseling services, and many more. These centers have taken on a Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH) designation allowing them some flexibility when working in the best interest of the community. In addition, Our Daughters of Charity has created many community-focused programs to address some of the significant health concerns of the population including diabetes and cardiovascular health. The diabetes program includes a support group for members of the surrounding community. In fact, they were preparing for a meeting with those enrolled in the program while we were there. This program educates participants about their condition and shows them ways to manage their health by providing them with fresh vegetables and other groceries and teaching ways to prepare them in a healthy way. Bags of nutritious foods were already prepared, ready and waiting.
One of the amazing capabilities of Our Daughters of Charity is its electronic medical records system, which is connected to other providers around the city. Staff at Our Daughters are notified if one of their patients checks in to an area emergency department. This ability leads to greater continuity of care and enables staff to identify which patients are having to utilize emergency services most often. This knowledge will be used to prioritize the tasks of newly hired community health workers funded as part of a new Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant that Our Daughters of Charity has received. Through this grant, the community health workers will be able to identify and work directly with those individuals who frequently utilize emergency health services. Their work will extend into communities to address the barriers their patients have in living a healthier lifestyle. This will truly be an amazing program that benefits the communities through personalized attention.
By the end of our visit, we were truly amazed at the work that Our Daughters of Charity has been and is doing in the city of New Orleans. They are able to maintain their Catholic values while adhering to the federal requirements of being an FQHC and, at the same time, work to meet the needs of the community they serve.
Team 2 – Tessa, Kachina, and Dekennon