It didn’t take long for Jarris Bell to learn the impact of a new clinic in an underserved community.
Folks knocked on the windows – politely – trying to make an appointment the day before the Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Medical Clinic opened on the west side of Charlotte, North Carolina.
In the month since, clinic administrator Bell (he’s known as “JB” to everyone) has been a driving force connecting patients to vital services they need. In return, the community has embraced the gleaming 7,400-square-foot clinic.
Bell recalls a patient’s awestruck look that this was their doctor’s office, and a smiling child bouncing on a waiting room chair. Families, despite not having much, have stopped by the clinic to deliver small homemade gifts.
“We helped them get food and that’s all they had, but they wanted to say thank you,” Bell said.
The new clinic, one of two in Charlotte funded by a $7 million donation from basketball star Michael Jordan, saw about 40 patients during its second day, Bell said. Almost all of them were establishing medical care for the first time. The clinic averages about 15-18 patients daily.
“There’s no need that we can’t address at this office,” he said.
The clinic team helped a woman in financial crisis keep her home. Bell has seen mothers tearing up and crying at the clinic. One woman was found sleeping in front of the office. The staff found housing for her, and Bell said: “We know she’s not in a dangerous place and not sleeping in the streets.”
“My heart has always been with the underserved community because I grew up in one,” said Bell, 36, a Charlotte native. “Over the years, I’ve had the heart to give back to help others.”
Roots in the neighborhood
Bell’s interest in his community runs deep. He lives near the clinic, and said he moved his family of six there “as an action of faith.” A friend had begun a church in the underserved community, and Bell was all-in.
He sold his home on Charlotte’s east side and moved to the west corridor. His squad is active in the community – Melinda, his wife of 16 years, is vice president of the PTA at their children’s school. Bell is vice president of the Historic Camp Greene Neighborhood Association. His kids attend a nearby after-school program, and one of his daughters is a tutor there. The family attends worship at West Charlotte Church.
Bell beams and laughs talking about his children – daughters Amalia (she’s 18) and Meliah (14), and sons D.J. (12) and Josiah (10).
“The best feeling I get is to see the community that my kids are growing up in,” he said. “I get to be a part of making it better for them. I have a vested interest in all the programs that come through this community. The success of those programs means my child’s future is better, safer and healthier.
“The greatest satisfaction is knowing that one day my grandkids may be living in this area, and I was able to be a part of making it better for them.”
Meeting every need
Bell, a licensed clinical social worker, has worked in health care eight years, primarily on the behavioral health side. He worked at the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services. He also has directed a housing program. Bell began as a medical social worker at Movement Family Wellness Center powered by Novant Health in 2018. He was promoted to clinic administrator for the new Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Medical Clinic and serves a similar role at the Movement facility, which is a few blocks away.
The Movement clinic includes a “food pharmacy,” with healthy options such as water, whole grains, no-salt vegetables, fruit canned without syrup. Bell can offer a patient a couple days’ worth of meals, but, more importantly, a food referral that could mean long-term success.
Bell’s experience and the contacts he’s established through the years help him direct patients to their specific needs, whether it is financial assistance, dental and vision, pharmaceutical, housing, food or clothing. That’s in addition to the medical attention they receive at the clinic.
“We’re here for the long haul,” Bell said. “We’re not a one-time, get-help-and-go. We want to help across your lifespan.”
One day, Bell crossed paths with a man in the clinic who was repeating “I am so, so grateful.” Bell, being curious, asked why. A clinic social worker had helped the man coordinate medication coverage, health care, vision care, food and entry into a housing program.
The man told Bell "to get what I did in the past hour here would have taken me two weeks, and I would have had to take five or six days off work, losing paychecks to take the bus to different places. I was able to accomplish everything right here.”
A caring attitude
Laurie Ritchie, a Novant Health regional clinic manager, saw Bell’s impact soon after he joined Novant Health.
“JB has a true `servant’s heart,’” she said. “He has seen firsthand the struggles of this community and the desperate needs of those who live here. JB as a person is the same as he is professionally. He is caring about those around him. He seeks to provide and care for the needs of the team at Novant Health as well as the community. He is truly genuine in his care.”
Meagan Bystrzycki, a physician assistant at the clinic, said Bell is vital to the success of the practice.
“He truly cares for his employees,” she said. “He wants everyone to be part of the decision process for how things should be run. He motivates and encourages the team with inspirational quotes or short stories. Just because we are located in an underserved area does not mean we give subpar medical care or service. JB wants this clinic to shine.”
Last January, Ritchie was in the office when she learned her mother had been moved to hospice care. Bell saw tears rolling down her cheeks, and his response was immediate: “Go spend time with your mother. We’ll take care of things here.”
Upon Ritche’s return after her mother’s death, Bell made a point to pull her aside and ask how she was feeling.
"I told him how much I miss my mother and all the things I want to tell her,” she said. He said `Laurie, you can still do that. When you visit her grave, tell her what you want her to know. She will hear you.”
"That small comment gave me such comfort. JB is heart, love, caring, compassionate and genuine. JB was put in my life to support me during a difficult time, and I know he was put here to do the same for the community of west Charlotte.”