Equity, Inclusion and Hope in Southeastern NC: George Carter

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.  

I am the Chaplain and Coordinator of Pastoral Care Services at University of North Carolina Health Southeastern, located in Lumberton, NC, serving Robeson and surrounding counties.

As a mission outreach coordinator, I’ve developed the Compassion for U Congregational Wellness Network (U-Care). Compassion for U is a community networking platform that connects church volunteers and agency health care partners by covenant to promote faith and its role in wellness. The banner ministry effort of Compassion for U is referred to as U-Care Connections Volunteer Transportation Ministry.

What are the significant needs in your community, and how are organizations and individuals working to meet those needs? 

Transportation barriers substantially impede healthcare access in Robeson County, leading to missed appointments, delayed care, and abandoned the pursuit of treatment. As the largest rural landmass county in the state, these barriers are even more significant to recently discharged patients battling one or more chronic diseases. These patients require timely follow-up care, regular clinical visits, access to medication, and regularly updated treatment plans to prevent re-hospitalization.

U-Care Connections assists by transporting disadvantaged ambulatory patients through qualified, compassionate volunteers providing their vehicle and encouragement to pursue healthcare needs despite social and financial barriers.

Why is this work personally important to you?

I moved to Robeson County 27 years ago to accept a job as a Hospice Chaplain for this hospital system. I’ve seen many patients pour great effort into seeking a cure at the hospital level only to feel like a burden to family and friends as they  access outpatient treatment, leading to depression, hopelessness, and likely premature death.

The Carter Center in Atlanta teaches that 100% of all premature deaths are preventable. These precious lives belong to my family, neighbors, and friends.

What obstacles have you faced while getting the work established? What did you do to overcome them? 

Our model is dependent on volunteerism. The engine of volunteerism is powered by sustaining passion. That passion will give way if it finds no support. A hard lesson we learned is that you cannot treat the volunteer the same as an employee.

The healthcare system desires completed appointments to offer the best service. The volunteer wants to be helpful and will contribute as they are able. The patient wishes to remain well but must overcome the physical and emotional distance presented by the social determinants of health. Each desires the outcome of wellness. Each must also contribute what they can toward the goal. It is a “Love Economy” dependent on all to participate.

When thinking about your work, what gives you hope?

Hope is created when compassion attempts to meet a need. My definition of compassion is carrying someone’s burden willingly as if it were your own, seeking to be helpful.

All the volunteers have experienced the thrill of making meaningful relationships, often being requested to remain the driver for that patients’ multiple appointments. There is a beautiful satisfaction in knowing the compassionate act of providing transportation gives the volunteer purpose and meaning, provides the healthcare system opportunities for better health outcomes, and provides the patient with the prospect of a longer and better life without  feeling burdensome. This ministry is saving lives.