‘This is a human push’

Why Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown gives — to her patients, the community and her team members at Novant Health

From as early as she can remember, Ophelia Garmon-Brown, MD, has wanted to be a doctor.

Her inspiration stemmed from personal tragedy: She lost her father to encephalitis at the age of 2, and by the age of 4, she told her family she wanted to “save all the daddies” because no one should have to grow up without a father. The experience gave her clarity. She knew exactly what she was going to be when she grew up.

And that’s exactly what she became.

Dr. Garmon-Brown’s family nurtured that passion for helping others. When they moved from the inner city of Detroit to eastern North Carolina, the closest full-service hospital was 45 miles away in Greenville. For some in the community, getting to that hospital was a struggle so Dr. Garmon-Brown’s aunt, Mamie would drive those in need to Greenville, stay with them through their appointments and then drive them back home.  Many of those folks would “pay” her with a chicken or produce.

Dr. Garmon-Brown learned that helping others was never considered a chore. It was just the right thing to do.

Those early experiences set the tone for Dr. Garmon-Brown’s 40-year career in the medical field. Now, as the senior vice president and chief community health and wellness officer at Novant Health, she is focused on health equity, ensuring all members of our community have access to remarkable care that addresses the unique needs of every patient.

“We really do have to do things differently for different types of people,” Dr. Garmon-Brown said. “A lot of times our healthcare providers will say, ‘I treat everybody equally.’ But equal care may not be what people need because those who have not had access to care for a long time, may need things done differently to achieve health equity.

Dr. Garmon-Brown has worked with Novant Health to set up a Healthy Equity Fund at Novant Health designed to help with the social determinants of health. She and her colleagues have found that 10 to 20% of what helps a patient is what they learn in the doctor’s office. The rest of their wellness is determined by outside factors, including environment, socioeconomic status and education.

The Health Equity Fund attempts to address those factors by taking a holistic approach to health and wellness, providing access to everything from financial assistance to transportation services to resources that enhance health education for patients and their families.

“What we hope to do with the Health Equity Fund is to be able to bridge gaps for people who are trying very hard to do their best, but they need help,” Dr. Garmon-Brown said.

Dr. Garmon-Brown’s passion for helping others extends to her colleagues. She pays attention to her teammates and encourages them to take care of each other so they can better serve their communities. She also contributes to Giving. Serving. Together, Novant Health’s team member giving campaign — a commitment she has maintained for many years.

“I have been amazed at how many of our team members come to work every day and give remarkable care but are struggling: struggling to pay the rent, struggling to have transportation, struggling to get their food, struggling in so many various ways,” she said. “The Giving. Serving. Together campaign allows us to help those team members in a real way. This is not a corporate push. This is a human push. This is a teammate push. This is a community push. Because we know, as we push together, we can push ourselves up an incredible hill and make a difference in the lives of others.”

Dr. Garmon-Brown is also giving back through a book she co-authored, “The Unexpected Gift: Profiles in Courage from Cancer Survivorship.” The book tells the story of those who gave back to their communities while they had cancer, offering a message of hope for those struggling with chronic and severe illnesses. A percentage of the proceeds of all book sales will support the Health Equity Fund at Novant Health.

“As a family doctor, I would say to my patients with cancer that cancer can be a gift,” Dr. Garmon-Brown said. “Cancer gives us the opportunity to know that maybe our lives will be shortened, and we can go out and do the things that we need to do and to find a silver lining in something that’s so difficult.”

For Dr. Garmon-Brown, that silver lining has been service to others. While that can take the form of a financial contribution, it doesn’t have to.

“A dollar, if that’s what you can do, is wonderful,” Dr. Garmon-Brown said. “But it’s not just about your money. It’s about your time. It’s about your talent. Whatever you have a passion for. How can you help to make a difference? It may be volunteering with our youth. It may be volunteering in our community. It may be all sorts of different things that you love doing. Whatever it is, find it and make that your gift.”

You, too, can make a difference in the lives of others with a contribution to Novant Health Foundation.

Your gifts help ensure that our commitment to remarkable care continues and that it reaches across our communities to all those in need. Join us, and make your gift today.

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