By LaShawn Hudson
When Deborah Walker and her daughter relocated to Charlotte from Birmingham, Ala., nearly two decades ago, at the top of her to-do list was to find a great physician. After searching extensively, she was referred to Dr. Clarence Ellis.
“He was among a group of African American doctors that were doing work around health disparities in communities of color,” explains the south Charlotte resident. “That upped my respect for him. I booked an appointment and we just hit it off.”
“When the test came back that I was prediabetic, he talked me through it and gave me options.” she explains. “He didn’t try to push me or shove me into doing something that I didn’t want to do.”
Walker, a baby boomer, says Ellis’ medical guidance, and her own will to fight back, worked together to improve her health.
“I never wanted to have to take insulin,” she explains. “He could’ve said ‘I’m the doctor and I know best,’ but that wasn’t his position.”
Walker is among many patients at Metrolina Internal Medicine (MIM) who say they have entrusted Ellis, Dr. Karlton Pettis and nurse practitioner Felicia Harrell with their primary care needs.
“The model of our practice is for our patients to build personal relationships with our practitioners, which leads to better care for our patients,” explains Pettis.
MIM is a Black-owned and privately-operated primary care practice in Charlotte that specializes
in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of nonsurgical diseases. The company has two facilities, generally caring for patients 18 and over. Its main office is located in Charlotte’s hospital district on Randolph Road, with a second office located in north Charlotte on North Tryon Street. Ellis, who cofounded MIM in 1998, says the practice was created to provide a space for physicians of color to provide optimal, compassionate health care services.
For 20-plus years, Ellis and his team have worked to create an environment that’s inclusive and diverse,: welcoming all people, no matter their ethnicity, cultural background or socioeconomic status.
“There’s a long history of people of color not having a great experience with traditional health care in this country,” explains Ellis, 65. “It’s a white male-dominated service, for the most part, and people of color have not been welcomed in many places.”
The Tuskegee Experiment and the case of Henrieta Lacks, the black woman whose cells were taken without consent and later used extensively in medical research, remain historical nightmares that aid in building distrust among Black patients and white doctors.
“The ability to care for people is a lot greater when you share a lot with them,” explains Ellis. “Physicians of color can make a big difference when it comes to caring for patients of color, because they share familiarity: cultural background, language and social challenges.
Data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that MIM’s work to address health disparities in communities of color is much needed. A growing body of research suggests that social factors and health risks, such as obesity, smoking, unemployment and poverty, all contribute to widening health disparities among this population. The CDC also reports that African Americans are living with and dying from many conditions that are found in white Americans at older ages.
However, medical studies suggest, Black patient outcomes are better when they are treated by a Black doctor.
By providing in-house testing and partnering with local churches and community organizations to spread awareness, Pettis says, MIM doctors go the extra mile to prevent diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and strokes among their patients.
“The greatest health challenge facing African Americans is cardiovascular disease,: meaning heart attacks and strokes,” explains Pettis, 49. “Cardiovascular disease is almost always preventable.”
Ellis says MIM remains strong and solvent because patients come first. “The way medicine works is that you tend to care for people as if they are in your own personal circle,” explains Ellis. “We see our role in the community is more than an opportunity to make money. A large part of what we do is community service”