AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – One of the fundamental missions of Christ Community Health is to provide affordable, quality primary health care to the underserved. Since the organization’s inception, they have grown to reach more patients in more areas all across the CSRA.

Brad Means: Christ Community Health, an amazing organization in Augusta that helps so many people get the healthcare they might otherwise not get. Don Branum is the CEO of Christ Community Health. He’s been kind enough to join us today. Don, thanks for being here and thanks for what y’all do.

Don Branum: Oh, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Brad Means: Well, when I found out that we were gonna be together on the show, I started to think about my first encounter with your organization. And back then, you just had that one downtown, that beautiful downtown location. You have three now. Why are y’all growing so, what I consider, quickly? And do you think that’ll keep going?

Don Branum: Yeah, the recent growth, there’s just continued need for the services we’re providing in the community. And I definitely anticipate continued growth. We’ve started a pediatric practice within one of our adult practices. And so probably within the next handful of months, we will have a full pediatric practice open and running.

Brad Means: Just so people can get a general idea of what Christ Community Health does, is it a free place to get medical care? Is it a place where folks who can’t afford traditional medical care go, the uninsured, et cetera? Give me a feel for who comes there.

Don Branum: Yeah, so we are not a free clinic. We are a clinic, though, that does provide care to the underserved and those who maybe have under-resourced in the community. And it really meets a huge gap. And right now as we’re going through the changes in the economy, there’s a lot of people who can’t even afford the healthcare they have. And so we’re a great opportunity for those individuals.

Brad Means: And so how do you decide how much somebody has to pay you?

Don Branum: All of our fees are based upon one’s income and family size to make care equitable to everyone. And it doesn’t matter how well or how well maybe you’ve not cared for yourself in the past, and so we just look at each individual on that basis.

Brad Means: And how do they get to begin a relationship with you? Is it through a referral, or can they just walk through the door?

Don Branum: They can walk through the door, but we prefer they’d call us.

Brad Means: Sure.

Don Branum: It’s always the easiest way. And if they just call our main number, they’ll talk to one of our schedulers, and they’ll get them scheduled.

Brad Means: So what are you seeing out there today? What’s the most common ailment or medical need that you see in a patient?

Don Branum: Right now, our patients are very typical of what is generally seen anywhere else. And so you’ve got hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, those big three that we tend to hear all over the news.

Brad Means: Right, so you have Downtown, you have Medical District-

Don Branum: Yep.

Brad Means: Locations.

Don Branum: Peach Orchard.

Brad Means: Yep. South Augusta’s covered. Is there a part of town where you’re seeing a greater need, maybe just from those three locations? Or maybe you’re seeing something already where you say, okay, we need to build something there.

Don Branum: Right now, probably we’ve seen the biggest need in the South Augusta.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Don Branum: And that’s the newest place that we’ve opened up. And that has, I don’t wanna say filled up, but pretty darn close to being filled up already. And we’re always looking and trying to figure out where is the next place to put one of our sites. And we’re different than others in that we put our clinics in neighborhoods, ’cause that’s often a hard place for people saying, how do I get transportation to a doctor? How do I get to the hospital? So we wanna go to where people live and provide those services in that community.

Brad Means: Are y’all able to do telehealth or anything like that? I know I’ve talked to physicians in the past who say that they reach their patients at home on their phone or their iPad, have a FaceTime conversation with ’em. Do y’all do that, or is it pretty much all in person?

Don Branum: We do telehealth. I mean, we’re very similar to any other medical practice out there. If a patient needs telehealth, we’ll do it. For a lot of our patients, they do prefer to come in, and for our approach, which is more of a Christian orientation, we like to sit down face to face and just kind of connect with that patient. And we tend to, from a practice standpoint, spend more time with our patients.

Brad Means: I wanted to ask you about that outreach that’s so important to Christ Community Health. It’s part of your name.

Don Branum: Yep.

Brad Means: Do you try to get people who aren’t Christians to become Christians? How much of a part of the treatment experiences that?

Don Branum: Yeah, and so as an organization, Christ is more than just in our name. It’s what we do. And we accept anyone as a patient, and we have what’s called a holistic approach to medical care. And so we have licensed doctors who provide medical treatment. We also have behavioral health providers that work with our medical providers. And then so we’re addressing the physical, emotional, but also we address the spiritual wellbeing ’cause we are three-in-one person. And so if all of those are being cared for, that person tends to see better results.

Brad Means: Yeah, I was gonna ask you about that. You’ve witnessed outcomes that are improved because of that component, right?

Don Branum: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. And again, we’re all made with those three components within us, and to, I’ll use the word avoid, that that’s not reality, you’re probably not caring for that person well. And even from a mental health standpoint, a lot of mental health illnesses will create a medical illness, and vice versa.

Brad Means: It’s not cheap to expand. It’s not cheap to provide healthcare. So if you’re doing this sliding-scale thing, where do you get the rest of your money? How do y’all stay operational, and what can the community’s role be in that?

Don Branum: Yeah, so 40% of our patients are uninsured, which is a pretty strong staggering number. And so we really, first of all, try to operate very effectively and efficiently and utilize every dollar we can get to care for our patients. And so to that end, we don’t have people who are walking out with cash in their pocket from an ownership standpoint. We’re a nonprofit. And so to that end, we do have a lot of generous people in the community who support us.

Brad Means: Yeah, yeah, a lot of people have stepped up and helped y’all, but there’s always the need for more, right? If someone wants to donate, that’s a good place to put your money.

Don Branum: Absolutely, and again, it’s making an impact in those who can’t afford healthcare, but also in a bigger picture, we’re helping the healthcare system in the greater area of Augusta ’cause a lot of those individuals might go to the ER. And that becomes a real expensive way to get primary care. And if we can take that off of the hospital system, we’re creating a better health system for all of Augusta.

Brad Means: You see thousands of patients each year. Have the other more traditional organizations, AU Health, University, or Piedmont, excuse me, Doctors. Have they said, “Hey, thanks, you’re taking a burden off of us?”

Don Branum: Yeah, we actually have pretty strong relationship with all of them, in particular Piedmont, and Jim Davis, the CEO there, has been absolutely phenomenal. I mean, he’s stepped up many times, helped us. And again, we continue to work with all of them.

Brad Means: Your original building is the birthplace of University Hospital, right, if memory serves.

Don Branum: Yep, that is is correct.

Brad Means: Yeah, yeah. What about the medical staff? Listen, the job market is hot for medical professionals, especially nurses. How do you compete, Don, with them and convince folks to come work for you?

Don Branum: Wow, that’s a toughie, thanks.

Brad Means: I mean, seriously, why would you, I graduate from nursing school or med school. What’s gonna make me go serve the underserved? Do you just have to have a heart for it?

Don Branum: Yeah, it really comes back to that is a passion within you. You wanna serve those individuals, but also again, being a Christian organization, it’s a unique opportunity to take your faith and live it out in your profession.

Brad Means: Mm-hm, what about you personally? What kind of rewards do you get from this job? When you go home at night or just on the weekends, you’re thinking back about your week. What makes you know you chose the right career path?

Don Branum: I guess I’ll say when I wake up in the morning. I mean, I wake up and just feel ready to go and excited about the opportunity what I get to do that day, And not everyone has an opportunity to go to work, and when they leave going, I just made a difference in someone’s medically, emotionally and spiritually, and so it’s very rewarding each and every day. I think that’s another draw for individuals who wanna come work for us, is like, okay, I have an opportunity to make a big difference in someone’s life.

Brad Means: Yeah, that was probably my last question, is you see the medical professionals. You see ’em walking down the halls and going in and out of the exam rooms. They have to feel good about the choices they made, right? And that that’s where they’re supposed to be and where they’re supposed to serve, these doctors and nurses, right?

Don Branum: Yeah, and for them, again, almost our entire staff have the exact same missional mindset that we have. And so they come in knowing God has called them to do this, and they get an opportunity to take being a physician, and also a lot of them have a missionary heart. And so they get the chance to really just share the love of God with these individuals. And so it’s just very powerful to see that, and it’s not uncommon for a doctor to write a prescription, but also to sit and pray with them. And a lot of people-

Brad Means: Really?

Don Branum: Are just like, “I’ve never had anyone do that.” And it’s very powerful to have that kind of relationship with your medical provider.

Brad Means: You don’t see that a lot.

Don Branum: No.

Brad Means: That’s not part of a typical doctor’s visit, is it?

Don Branum: No, not at all, and again, it’s just, one of the uniquenesses of Christ Community Health and being able to do that and just have that impact and, again, being in the neighborhoods, part of our goal is to influence the entire neighborhood. We wanna employ people. We wanna have an influence in the neighborhood, and we see us as more than just a medical practice in the community.

Brad Means: Well, you are. You’re a positive force in this area, and we appreciate all that y’all do. I appreciate you taking the time today.

Don Branum: Well, thank you, Brad, appreciate it.

Brad Means: Absolutely. Don Branum, CEO of Christ Community Health. What a wonderful organization.