If you walked up upon Jamarcus Ankston, you would most likely find him smiling. He seems to smile a lot. He sways a little, too.
You’d have no idea how much physical pain his smile is masking. You might not notice that patches of his body are burned. And, you wouldn’t know that he doesn’t always smile by choice.
Jamarcus is 28 years old. He dropped out of school in the 4th grade to care for his mom, who was then dying of a brain disorder called acute cerebellar ataxia.
It’s the same disorder that causes Jamarcus to constantly smile – he has little control of his facial muscles. It’s what causes him to fall over when he tries to stand and to sway while he sits.
Unmedicated until recently, it’s the disorder that causes Jamarcus to collapse onto the stove and get burned when he cooks. His brainstem is growing into his brain.
When Jamarcus arrived at Regional One Health with his godmother, Betty, he was living in an abandoned house. As Betty gave Jamarcus’ medical and home-life details to the Regional One Health emergency department, medical and social-work staff started to piece together what was happening in this young man’s life.
They knew they could help.
Regional One Health’s initiative called ONE Health helps the most vulnerable Memphians gain hope that their lives – riddled with medical complexities and socioeconomic factors that exacerbate health issues – can become better.
ONE Health exists as a doorway to connect people to medical care but also to assist finding housing and food, applying for insurance, Social Security or disability, obtaining skills training or GED certification, receiving addiction treatment, accessing transportation, and more.
In short, ONE Health is a compass that guides people in the navigation of multiple complex medical and social bureaucracies. This 18-month-old initiative gives hope of a better quality of life to people who are so often overlooked or beaten down.
In Jamarcus’ case, ONE Health paid for the genetic testing that opened the door to insurance and disability benefits, which led to receiving a wheelchair and medication that allows him to manage the effects of the disease. ONE Health staff obtained an apartment for Jamarcus, too, which has a wheelchair ramp and a toaster oven that doesn’t burn him.
Because of Regional One Health’s vision to create a change in Memphis, the philanthropic donors that bolster ONE Health, and the small but mighty ONE Health staff, Jamarcus is managing his brain disorder.
Jamarcus is far from alone in his need for someone to care about him and help him take uncharted steps toward stability – and ideally, independence.
“Everyone needs an advocate who knows the complexity of the systems and has the heart to help them,” says ONE Health Program Manager Megan Williams. “A lot of people don’t have someone to help them make sense of complicated information. They may not have healthy relationships to help with things as simple as picking up prescription medicine. That’s what we do. With ONE Health, we help vulnerable Memphians to stabilize.”
A big-picture effect of helping individuals become more stable by addressing their root problems, one by one, is the collective reduction in emergency room visits. Regional One Health forecasts an annual savings of $1 million in emergency department costs as more people who regularly rely on the emergency department connect to the social support they actually need.
Data collected by Regional One Health shows that only about 20 percent of health is tied to medical care received in clinics or the hospital. The rest is rooted in social issues like poverty, addiction, or lack of housing, transportation and food.
ONE Health has the opportunity to bring about change for generations of Memphians, and data analysis of Regional One Health’s emergency department patient base backs up what is intuitively known – caring for people in the way they need it will change lives and families, and it will reduce the operating costs of the hospital where no one is turned away.
Philanthropy is key to the future of ONE Health, which is made possible in part by a donation from The Assisi Foundation and additional individual and corporate donors working in conjunction with the Regional One Health Foundation.
A growing network of social service providers are part of the ONE Health hub that provides a one-stop-shop to people in need of support. “Dollars that come in means dollars that we can offer to pay for transportation to pick up medicine, a mental health assessment, addiction counseling, rent – all of those things that are often root causes for why people repeatedly appear in our emergency department,” Williams said.