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Community Impact Series: New Orleans Faith Health Alliance

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Even if they lack health insurance, visitors to the New Orleans Faith Health Alliance find a "whole person" approach, health coaching and an appreciation of their spiritual needs.

After living in New Orleans for some 25 years, Honduras native and local housekeeper Vilma Costa has learned the ropes of her city pretty well. But, until recently, when she felt sick she still didn’t really know where to turn. 

“First of all, I didn’t have insurance to go to a private doctor,” she says.

But then she heard about the New Orleans Faith Health Alliance, a nonprofit health center with a different way of doing business.

“So I decided to visit and they opened their arms,” she says. “I feel they were like family to me.”

Located in Mid-City, the Faith Health Alliance offers primary care to uninsured people in the New Orleans area, a population that the group’s executive director, Luanne Francis, says numbers to about 95,000. Fees are based on a patient’s ability to pay, but that’s not all that sets this clinic apart. A key to its approach is a health-coaching program that personalizes and supports its care, which has been especially successful for patients dealing with diabetes or hypertension.

“Our focus is on not just providing the medical care, so making sure you have your medications and so on, but also helping you make lifestyle changes that can help you manage your health,” says Francis. “So we have a strong focus on prevention and education and the whole person.”

Faith is right there in this group’s name, and that is included too in its whole person approach, though not in any doctrinal way.

“We see faith as what you as a patient and an individual see faith as for you,” says Francis. “We ask, first of all, if it’s important to you, if you want us to include it in your medical care and how can we support that. And for some folks, they just are glad that we ask that and that’s part of what they can receive.”

For instance, there’s a spirituality center here, built by a grateful patient. It’s a place for prayer requests, meditation, journal writing or just to relax while waiting to see the doctor.

“So we offer opportunities for folks to pay attention, not just taking medications and changing their diet, but looking at what’s going on spiritually or mentally, to help them manage their lives.” Francis says.

One goal of the Faith Health Alliance is to become the medical home for its patients, or an anchor for their healthier lifestyles, and many do return even when they don’t feel sick. Vilma Costa is one of them. She participates in the clinic’s exercise classes to manage her blood pressure, and she volunteers as a translator, helping others from the Latino community access Faith Health Alliance care.

“We have a lot of Spanish people who don’t have insurance and they don’t even speak English so I decide to stay there and help,” says Costa. “I have to give back the gift that I got.”

The New Orleans Faith Health Alliance is located at 3401 Canal St. in Mid-City. Call 504-486-8585 to learn more or visit the group's web site.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.

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