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Care Ring’s new leader sets sights on growing health care access
Tchernavia Montgomery assumed job in March
 
Published Friday, May 21, 2021 10:00 pm
by Herbert L. White

PHOTO | CARE RING
Tchernavia Montgomery is executive director of Care Ring, a nonprofit health care provider in Charlotte.

Tchernavia Montgomery has built her professional career on service to the vulnerable and underserved.


Montgomery is the new executive director of health care provider nonprofit Care Ring and the first Black person to hold the position. She has 17 years of experience in health and human services as a licensed clinical social worker and before joining Care Ring was chief program officer at Crisis Assistance Ministry.


Montgomery, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from UNC Charlotte, is an adjunct professor and chairs the School of Social Work’s Community Advisory Board.


In an interview with The Post, Montgomery talked about her first month leading Care Ring since taking over in March, goals and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the nonprofit’s mission. Answers are edited for brevity and clarity.


Q: How are you adjusting to the new job, and what is entailed with the position?


TM: The transition has gone wonderfully. I can say without a doubt that the staff [is] incredibly passionate about what they do. They are very engaged with the people that we serve. Care Ring and the organization was left in an excellent position by the previous executive director.


Q: Explain what Care Ring is, what it does, and how long it’s been around.


TM: Care Ring has been around since 1955. We are a trusted healthcare organization in the community for those who are uninsured and those who are underinsured.
Each day we provide a wide array of high-quality health services to individuals that lack access to other means of care, and we do everything that we do it in a compassionate and empowering manner, so that we can preserve the dignity and respect of the people that we serve.


We have three distinct programs that service those populations, and those services are supported by an arm of advocacy for the community, especially those that have limited resources, are low income or in vulnerable positions and at risk for chronic illnesses and medical conditions that require management.


Q: Obviously, there’s been a great deal of change in terms of access to healthcare insurance, whether it was in the 1960s with the Great Society or 10 years ago with the Affordable Care Act. How do things stack up these days?


TM: Access remains an issue for those especially in lower income populations. Currently in Mecklenburg County, around 12% of people are uninsured, so they have no coverage. And for us, we primarily serve in those communities where there are lower resources, so we want to ensure that there’s health equity across the board, and that people have access to care.


We’ve seen especially during the pandemic we know we know that there have been disparities, and that black and brown people have been disproportionately impacted by COVID 19 and we’ve just seen through this pandemic that those issues have just been further exacerbated. So, it’s very tough to get a program running that is low cost, that ensures access and also has quality, but that’s our goal – to provide services that fall within what we call the Iron Triangle in healthcare.


Q: When it comes to a safety net, it sounds as if there’s not a fully constructed net.


TM: There are challenges with the system that’s currently in place, so we want to lead that effort and again become thought leaders around how to better craft a system that’s going to ensure that all individuals have access to care.


There are models across the country that we are hoping to glean from and hope that they’ll be able to give us some ideas and some thoughts around what we can do to better, better design a system of care here.


We also are going to be learning lessons through the Medicaid transformation. … Right now, we’re a fee for service system. But the state is transitioning this summer to a value-based care model and they’re adopting a whole-person care approach. …  I think it will benefit a lot more people. They’re also changing the qualifications and the criteria, so there should be more people that are eligible for Medicaid and state-sponsored health insurance or services.


Q: You are new to the top job. How much listening and learning are you doing, and how does that stack up to what you envision?


TM: That’s what you do when you first get on a job. I believe my first 30 days and moving into the 90-day mark I like to call it my learning and listening tour, both vertically and horizontally, so I have made sure to start engaging in activities that develop trust with the people that are inside the organization.


And also make sure that I’m touching base with all of our key and critical stakeholders in the community so our donors, people that contribute to the organization, my peers, other partner organizations or our local county government, and to be very deliberate, so that I can assess where we are and where they’d like us to be, and how we can strategically align with what they’re moving towards.


Q: Everybody has goals or dreams that they want to accomplish. What are yours with Care Ring?


TM: Dive into the health equity space. We know that health involves more than just genetics, a lot of it is based on your environment.


We want to ensure that there’s fairness within the health space amongst all groups and to ensure that people have that access to care and increase opportunities for people to live the healthiest life that they have possible regardless of the barriers that they’re experiencing from the health equity standpoint.


Q: Understanding that COVID is with us right now and it will be with us for the foreseeable future, how much of an impact does that have on those goals and what you’re trying to accomplish?


TM: We eventually want to not have to be in existence at all – that should be every nonprofit’s mission, to not be in existence. You have an organization that exists because of a gap. That’s not a healthy community. What we’ve found is that because of the economic impacts of COVID, the number of patients for us have increased year over year. There are more people needing our services because they’ve lost their jobs, their hours have decreased, and the cost of health insurance continues to rise. They’ve experienced an increase in their hospital or health care bills because of COVID-related illnesses.


We have seen the number of people needing our services. We have thankfully been able to adapt a hybrid model of being able to see people virtually using the telehealth platform as well as seeing people in person, using COVID recommended safety precautions and social distancing but we’ve been able to provide that care.

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