A Partner in the Mission: NeighborHealth

January 30, 2023

How Dr. Briggs and His Team Meet the Mission’s Healthcare Needs

What happens when a New Life Plan client is sick? Who do they call when they test positive for COVID? How do clients afford their prescriptions while living at the Mission? 

For Raleigh Rescue Mission, developing a partnership with NeighborHealth has met many of the healthcare needs of our New Life Plan clients. NeighborHealth is the first and only faith-based and federally qualified healthcare clinic of its kind in North Carolina. 

Dr. Doug Briggs, M.D., the clinic’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), has been one of the Mission’s primary contacts since the clinic began. He has treated clients, provided guidance throughout the pandemic, offered health screenings important to the Mission’s communal living, and has referred patients on the brink of homelessness to the Mission. 

Dr. Briggs is also a like-minded worker in extending the love of Christ to people in need. He became a Christian in college, and by the time he went to medical school at UNC, he knew he was called to be a medical missionary abroad.

“That’s what I’ve always had a passion for – helping people who have limited access to medical care get it,” he said.

This calling led Dr. Briggs and his wife to move to a remote area of China for 23 years and provide healthcare to a primarily Tibetan community. 

Back in Raleigh, God also called Susanne Berger to reach people with limited access to healthcare. She had a vision for a faith-based clinic that would serve the uninsured, the insured, and anyone in between. She had gathered donations, board members, co-laborers, one physician’s assistant, and advisors, and had the clinic’s paperwork ready. What was missing was a doctor to be the CMO.

In 2018, Dr. Briggs and the other missionaries were asked to leave China because the government no longer wanted foreigners to work with Tibetans. On his way back to North Carolina, Dr. Briggs got a phone call from Sue Ellen Thompson, a friend and co-founder with Susanne Berger and the first CEO of NeighborHealth. She explained the vision for the clinic and the need for a provider.

“When she described it, it checked every box I was looking for,” said Dr. Briggs. “I wanted to come back and continue the same kind of work I was doing in China, which was demonstrating Christ’s love through good, compassionate healthcare that people were lacking. I wanted to work with people who needed a bridge to healthcare. I wanted to work with other believers if possible. The vision for NeighborHealth was all of that. It just didn’t exist yet.”

NeighborHealth had their ribbon cutting ceremony at the end of summer 2018, and Dr. Briggs was one of five employees. It has since grown to 75 employees, added a women’s health and prenatal center, and recently moved to a new location on Blue Ridge Road. They hope to someday add a pharmacy and dentistry, as well as additional locations. Right now, they have the patients to accommodate 10 more NeighborHealths.

“To have two ladies with a shared vision work through prayer and tireless effort and have a federally qualified clinic come out of that is pretty unprecedented,” summed up Dr. Briggs.

The clinic has patients from 80 countries along with being an important partner for many ministries in the Triangle, Raleigh Rescue Mission included. Some of Dr. Briggs’ first patients were New Life Plan clients.

“We’re happy to be a resource for the people at Raleigh Rescue Mission. They are exactly the kind of patients we exist for,” said Dr. Briggs

Now, NeighborHealth sees about a dozen patients of all ages from the Mission every month and enables the Mission to care for clients with medical needs. 

“NeighborHealth has been an awesome partner over the past few years,” said Virginia Gustafson, Senior Director of Engagement at the Mission. “We could not have made it through the peak of COVID without them. Their flexibility and heart to serve have allowed us to better serve our clients.”

Many clients qualify for the clinic’s sliding fee scale for the uninsured, which begins at $25 per visit including labs. Being federally qualified and having a 340B plan gives NeighborHealth access to affordable drugs through places like Josefs Pharmacy, located on New Bern Avenue.

Additionally, while not a full-fledged member of the UNC Health system, NeighborHealth has access to their Financial Assistance program. Most patients who qualify for the sliding fee scale also qualify for this program, and they can get tests and see subspecialists for almost no cost. 

The two organizations’ aligned visions make a greater impact toward breaking cycles of poverty and preventing homelessness for patients and clients. 

“I really like the vision of Raleigh Rescue Mission and the fact that we have a partnership with them,” said Dr. Briggs. “We have a lot of similar goals – providing what these people need not so they’ll become dependent on us, but that they can move past this time in their life.”

Both stress the importance of acknowledging the individual’s sacred value and meeting them where they are.

“That’s our goal as a clinic – to give all our patients the same level of dignity and consideration whether they’re insured, using Medicaid, no insurance, homeless, anything,” said Dr. Briggs. “Whoever walks through that door, we want them to get the same quality of healthcare.”

Dr. Briggs said there are resources available in the Triangle for those who need them, but there’s often no catalyst or link that will connect the people to the resources. But he considers Raleigh Rescue Mission both a resource and a catalyst for change in our area. 

“People go into Raleigh Rescue Mission homeless and come out with a job and a place to live,” he said. “The clients don’t have a long-term dependence because the solution is that they don’t have the need anymore. Those at Raleigh Rescue Mission really help people get prepared to get back on their feet.”