No two mornings are the same for Margaret Norman. The clerical lead at Novant Health Today’s Clinics for women and children juggles it all, and with a smile: payroll, scheduling, lab billing, whatever’s got to be done. And many of the OB-GYN patients she welcomes each day know her from the Boston-Thurmond neighborhood, just north of downtown Winston-Salem.

“I love my job,” said Norman, 63, who lives just a half-mile from her job. “Every day there’s something that we may not have tackled, and we figure it out.”

Some days that means politely turning away the occasional man who calls for an appointment. That’s because for the last 28 years, Today’s has treated women and children exclusively.

But that changes next year, when the clinic will offer family medicine services. Novant Health Today’s Adult Primary Care, scheduled to open in early 2024, will address the local health care provider shortage by providing medical access to men for the first time.

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“You can walk up and down this street and ask every Black male you see, and they couldn’t tell you that they have a family doctor,” said Norman, who is African American. “Family medicine is going to help with the male population 100%.”

Indeed, few options are within driving distance, which is why the Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center Foundation has committed $2 million to establish primary care for all, and provide it within minutes from patients’ homes.

“It will be a one-stop shop,” Norman said. “And it makes it more accessible because a lot of people in the neighborhood can walk here.”

Norman moved here with her daughter from Virginia more than 30 years ago. As a single mom she worked in the dermatology department at Bowman Gray until her daughter was a teenager. She also worked nights in the emergency room at Forsyth Medical Center. But by 2007 Norman needed a day job, and discovered an opportunity with Novant Health.

Dreaming of bread

When she first moved there, “Everyone said, ‘That’s a terrible neighborhood.’ And I was like, ‘There’s nothing here but three houses and the rest is dirt.’ I’ve never had a problem.” And the image never deterred Norman, who furnished her home from trips to thrift shops and has always lived “on a dime,” as she puts it.

The night before her interview with Novant Health, Norman dreamed she was standing in a room full of bread. It was everywhere, all around her. “God’s up to something,” her mother told her by phone the next morning. “Bread means abundance.”

Did it ever. During a tour of the clinic that day, Norman was delighted to see loaves of bread stacked on every table inside the multipurpose room, a gift for patients to take home from Panera bread.

Seventeen years later, Norman limits herself to the occasional piece. But she says her personal and professional abundance has only grown, and kept in step with Boston-Thurmond’s own progress.

And as Winston-Salem continues to grow, the streets around her are changing. “The neighborhood is very diverse now,” she said. “Now I have a Hispanic family that lives right behind me, and a Caucasian family that lives right beside me. My daughter lives up the street. Things are looking up.”

Three clinics, one location

The 2,700-square-foot Novant Health Today’s Adult Primary Care will be about half the size of a basketball court. It will improve access to comprehensive primary care, this time for all patients older than 17.

Local treatment runs in the family for Norman. Her daughter was seen at Novant Health Today’s Woman OB/GYN during her pregnancy, and her 9-year-old granddaughter has been a patient of Novant Health Today’s Pediatrics ever since.

Both clinics are being renovated to accommodate larger exam rooms for children and expectant mothers. Norman said she often meets pregnant teenagers experiencing anxiety and low self-confidence about becoming parents.

“When I have a new patient that comes in, I really work with them because I don’t want them to give up,” Norman said. “If I see a girl who’s got a spark in her eye, I’m on it. Where there’s life, there’s hope.”

Norman’s reputation with the clinic’s women patients is well established. And when it comes to the kids, nobody grabs their attention like patient coordinator Pedro Rocha does.

Pedro Rocha_crop

“I bet there’s not one baby that Pedro has not helped and sang his little Spanish songs to,” Norman said.

Norman and Rocha started at Novant Health just months apart. “We are like brother and sister,” he said—but Rocha, 67, traveled much farther to get here.

During the 1980s the contra war in Nicaragua disrupted that country’s health system, and was a destructive period that fueled a refugee crisis and ignited a malaria epidemic. About 70% of citizens received medication, according to the National Library of Medicine. At the time, Rocha worked as a pharmaceutical representative and was studying to become a malaria technician. But before long he knew it was time to leave the war zone, and his home country.

He briefly worked at a port in Miami, shipping freight, until a visit with his brother in North Carolina confirmed for Rocha that he had found his new home. Today he works as a patient-service coordinator.

“The fight here is different,” Rocha said. “The fight is a fight of love and compassion, and to let people know that they are important and we are here to help support them. This has been a mission for me: We’re going to heal the area.”