Judith Long: A Mission to Protect the Most Vulnerable

At NPQ, respect for our readers’ work, intelligence, and insight is core to all we do. And, indeed, research says that the nonprofit workforce is motivated differently than the other two sectors. So, we thought we would go out and ask them. The result is this special online series that will run every workday for the next month, illuminating what motivates each of twenty profiled workers.

We think much of what they say will resonate with you, but this is also who NPQ serves each day. They are why our work is so important, and NPQ can’t exist without your contributions.

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judith-long

Why NPQ serves Judith proudly…

I’m the executive director of The Free Clinics. We serve Henderson and Polk Counties in the mountains of western North Carolina. We are a unique organization, as a free clinic, because we are not a primary care model. Our focus is on the most vulnerable, the one percent, if you will, in healthcare language.  It’s statistically known that one percent of the population drives 25 percent of all healthcare costs because that one percent has the most complex medical conditions, mental health challenges, and substance abuse issues. They also face significant social challenges like homelessness, food deprivation, transportation issues, social isolation, and other critical determinants.  This is the population with whom we work in our two counties, and with whom we work very well, with some amazing health and social outcomes. We are a community of 281 volunteers, 170 health and community partners, 1,700 patients, and 20 staff, and we’re changing our little corner of the world.

As an example, let me tell you about Esther. Esther came to our walk-in medical clinic, which is a free urgent care clinic, about a year ago. She had some significant health crises, all of which were related to undiagnosed, untreated diabetes. We have a large migrant and immigrant population in Henderson County because we are an agricultural community, and Esther herself is an immigrant. At the clinic, when the physician told her that she had diabetes and all her medical problems were related to the diabetes, she had a very strong emotional response, almost a panic attack. When our team calmed her enough to speak with her, she told them that in her culture and her understanding, diabetes is a death sentence. So our team began to work with her on many levels simultaneously. We engaged her on a clinical level for medication and treatment of her diabetes and resulting health concerns; we engaged her on an emotional level about her fears; we engaged her on an educational level, building her understanding of how to live with her diabetes, how to eat, and how to take care of herself; and we engaged her on a social level, making home visits which helped us understand that she was putting molasses in her water (which was impacting her blood sugar) and assisting her with navigating transportation.  After just a few short months, Esther’s health dramatically improved, especially her blood sugar levels. About six months after her initial engagement with us, Esther asked us to help her teach her community about diabetes and how to live healthfully.  Esther’s personal journey has been a tremendous one. By her own enthusiasm for her health and for making health “contagious” in her community, she has now changed the clinics. Following Esther’s lead, we are starting a whole new program to teach patients to be peer educators in their community.

Stories like Esther’s…they are a very real gift to me personally. Over the past eight years, healthcare has been very hard because it’s changing so rapidly.  There are certainly days I go home and want to throw in the towel.  But what keeps me going are stories like Esther’s, knowing the way we’re changing lives, knowing that I am having an impact.  As a mother of a young child, I used to say that I needed my job to be meaningful to justify leaving my child, that it wasn’t enough for me to just earn a paycheck, I needed to know that I was making a difference.  Esther’s is just one story; over the past 15 years, we have touched approximately 25,000 lives, each with their own unique story.  We save lives; we change lives; we improve lives. Because we are here, vulnerable people in our community have an opportunity to participate more fully in their own lives.

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What Judith values about NPQ

I read the NPQ newswire every day.  I don’t miss it.  For me, it serves as that grounding point that helps focus my thinking in different ways. I appreciate the daily highlight of what’s going on around the nation in our sector. As a busy professional, I very much appreciate the shorter pieces; they’re insightful, they’re very well written, and they get to the heart of the issue and provide a great overview.  I print them often for my board, staff, or others.  And I appreciate that the magazine takes the deeper dive into what’s going on in nation that impacts all nonprofits, examining the various implications of an issue, or best practices for how we can collectively improve the tremendous work we do.