Some people spend decades searching for their purpose in life. For Robert Record, MD, that sense of purpose came at the age of 17, walking across the farm fields of Louisiana.
"That's when the dream began," he said. "I saw the compassion and patience my mother showed as a social worker at a mental health facility. I wanted to help the sick and needy and to one day be part of a place that could bring healing of body, mind and spirit to those who need access to care."
In 2009, that dream became real when Record helped to found Christ Health Center in Birmingham's Woodlawn neighborhood.
"We live in the most generous city in the world," Record said. "With the help of the medical community, churches, foundations, grants, donations and volunteers, we grew from a staff of four on opening day to a full time and volunteer staff of 110 plus 35 residents. Last year we served more than 25,000 unique patients."
Often, rather than referring to patients, the staff at Christ Health talk about helping neighbors.
"Those who come to us for care are the people who bag your groceries, serve your table or clean your office," Record said. "They are mostly the working poor. About 40 to 50 percent are uninsured, 35 percent have Medicaid, 10 percent Medicare and 10 percent have private coverage."
Around 75 percent of the center's operating budget is funded by earnings for the care it provides, with 10 to 15 percent coming from federal grants and 15 percent from donations.
The center has continued to grow and expand the services it offers.
"In some ways, we're like what a small town doctor's office used to be, but we have about the same facilities and services you'd find in most clinics," Record said. "From obstetric and newborn checkups to end of life care, we provide the full range of family medicine. We also offer behavioral health services with psychiatrists and counselors, and our residency program cares for patients at a clinic in Chalkville."
Before the pandemic, Christ Health Center also offered a full range of dental services. Plans are underway to re-open the dental clinic when restaffing is completed.
During the pandemic, the center performed more than 16,000 COVID tests and so far has done more than 10,000 vaccinations, 44 percent of which were for minority patients. They have also cared for many patients showing symptoms and arranged hospitalization for those whose condition needed more advanced care.
"The physicians and hospitals here have been wonderful," Record said. "We often have patients with heart disease, cancer, facial deformities, or other serious conditions that need advanced care, and when we call for help, so many step up and gladly help. The support we receive has been incredible. It has allowed us to grow and make more services available to more people. Still, demand remains greater than supply, so we are continually working to upgrade and expand our facilities to meet the need.
"We are upgrading our ultrasound capabilities, and we are just now opening an administrative office on Montclair Road. This will free up more space here for so we can build additional exam rooms. We already offer some home visits through our residency program for patients who are home bound or have a condition that makes it difficult to go out. In the future, we hope to also have a mobile health unit so we can take care to patients who can't come to us."
For those most in need, the dream continues to grow. It is a blessing to those who need care and also to those who give it. It's also a wonderful opportunity for volunteers to make a real difference, and for physicians and medical staff to practice the kind of medicine that inspired their decision to go into healthcare.