Dr. Sharon Elliott-Byrum, along with her sisters Patricia Amaechi and Carolyn Hinton, founded CAARE Healing Center.
I was very frustrated with what I was seeing in terms of the treatment and care given to people in accordance to their care source … Medicaid people or people who didn’t have much money, they didn’t have the same types of rooms or the same ratio of nurse – to – patient as persons with private pay or insurance. So, as an administrative nurse, that didn’t sit well with me because I felt like everyone deserved equal attention, so I went about changing that whole thing …” (Quote from Elliott-Bynum in The Charlotte Post, Feb. 29, 2012)
Born African American and female in the segregated south of the 1950s, Sharon Elliott-Bynum had much to overcome before becoming an international leader in providing community health services to the least fortunate in our society. Her sense of compassion and fairness was nurtured while she was still a high school student at Durham’s Northern High School when she took a job at the Lincoln Community Health Center as part of a Neighborhood Youth Corps program. Her passion for providing high quality health care in her hometown was ignited. As a teenager, Elliot-Bynum was a member of the Black Youth Forum where African American leaders including Howard Fuller and Ben Chavis inspired her by expecting all the teens to excel in life and give back to their communities. (http://thecharlottepost.com/index.php?src=news&refno=4463&category=WOT)
After graduating from high school at age 16, Elliot-Bynum earned her Licensed Practical Nurse degree from Durham Technical Institute in 1976, her Registered Nurse diploma from Watts Hospital School of Nursing in 1985, and her Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing degree from North Carolina Central University in 1993. Throughout her many years of nursing education she worked in a variety of nursing jobs in and around Durham. During those years Elliot-Bynum developed “extensive leadership experience in nursing, health education and prevention, non-traditional outreach in community based settings, HIV testing, substance abuse and community based participatory research.” (Durham Committee honors: Sharon Elliot-Bynum the Durham Herald Sun (date?) http://www.nccubaltimore.org/elliott-bynum.html)
Not long after completing her nursing education Elliot-Bynum found her life’s calling.
In the 1990s, Durham County tripled the state average of arrests for possession of opium and cocain (Offen, 2009)(The NC State Center for Health Statistics ranked Durham County in the top five counties for residents with HIV/Aids throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Further, Durham had a large homeless population, including many homeless African American veterans. These facts and figures and the people they represent spurred Elliott-Bynum and her sister, Pat Amaechi co-founded Case Management for AIDS/Addiction through Resources/Referrals and Education, Inc. (CAARE). in 1996.
Two sisters, Pat Amaechi and Sharon Elliott-Bynum, sat around their kitchen table in 1995, fretting about the increasing impact of AIDS on the local low-income community. Pat was a passionate advocate for social change. And Sharon, “like all nurses”, wanted to change the world. (http://healthandhealingonline.com/creating-housing-for-homeless-vets/)
Their first goal was to provide education and support to people with HIV/AIDS, their families and the local high risk population. The sisters began by offering free HIV testing and counseling services in local low income areas. Soon, that led to case management services for those found to be HIV positive. Because many of their HIV positive clients also had problems with drug and alcohol addiction, Elliott-Bynum and Amaechi started a substance abuse counseling services and support groups. Before long, they began a community food pantry providing nutritious foods for those in need. When patients learned they had hypertension or diabetes and were told to change their diets, the food pantry allowed them to obtain appropriat foods and in CAARE classes, learn to prepare them nutritiously. “Not only do we want to give away food but we want to show you how to prepare it without all the fats.” explained Elliott- Bynum (Eyewitness News Person of the Week 7-31-2009). Dr. Elliott-Bynum recalled the early days of CAARE this way:
After initially arranging for free AIDS testing for clients, many years ago, we moved naturally into case management –if someone is found to have ADIS, what are you going to do with them? – and then, as we grew, it was simply a question of being led by obvious unmet needs and wrapping our services around those needs. (http://caare-inc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/HealthandHealing.pdf)
Soon, CAARE began providing comprehensive health services from prevention to diagnosis for the regions uninsured. Blood pressure, blood sugar, HIV, mammograms, pap smears and hemcol tests were among the first services CARRE offered. In addition to medical testing, CAARE provided community health education. Classes and support groups for weight management, substance abuse, alcoholism, smoking, fitness, parenting and many other topics have been a mainstay at CARRE since its early years.
To better help her clients and her community, Elliott-Bynum earned a Master of Arts degree in Counseling from Victory International College in 2001 and a PhD in theology from the same institution in 2004. The CAARE program expanded to address more of the underlying causes of health disparities in Durham city and county and the surrounding region. Elliot-Bynum and Amaechi added mental health services, a GED program, job readiness training and transitional housing for homeless veterans to the services offered by CAARE. (http://thecharlottepost.com/index.php?src=news&refno=4463&category=WOT)
Elliott-Bynum’s influence spread overseas in 2006. In that year she went on a church sponsored mission trip to Nakuru, Kenya to participate in a women’s conference and coordinate a health fair. While there, she met Pastor Ayub Khayo, of Deliverance Church. Elliot-Bynum learned that Pastor Khayo and the villagers were trying to build a church-based health clinic. After returning to the United States, she, her sister Pat Amaechi and her daughter Ebony Elliott-Covington raised the $6,800 needed through creating a Martin Luther King Day “Keeping the Dream Alive” fundraiser in January 2007 (Brokaw, 2008). “God knew that was a test,” Elliott-Bynum said. “Be careful when you say yes, because attached to that yes is a lot of responsibility.” Since it opened in 2009 the clinic has provided care to hundreds of Kenyans each year. In tribute to her many contributions, in 2009 North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue awarded Elliott-Bynum the Order of the Long Lef Pine, one of the state’s highest honors.
In 2012, Elliott-Bynum and her leadership team began focusing on five major health issues: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and HIV/AIDS. Each program that CAARE offers affects at least one of these major health concerns. Hundreds of volunteers work in CAARE’s various programs, classes and clinics. Over 1,000 clients are served each month. Between 350-500 people use the food pantry for fruits and vegetables each week and about the same number participate in substance abuse counseling sessions and/or support groups each week. Wednesdays morning are reserved for the Senior Program which offers age appropriate health screening and an exercise class taught by senior citizens.
“It’s not magic. It’s just listening to what their [the CAARE clients] greatest needs are and trying to find a way to meet those needs.” SEB. Elliott-Bynum and the CAARE staff and volunteers believe that people are holistic with biological, psychological, social and spiritual needs. In an effort to address those varied needs, the CAARE facility has a gym with personal trainers available, massage therapists to relieve stress, a bistro with coffee shop serving healthy meals and providing a pleasant place to socialize. A dental clinic opened in 2011 and a chapel is under construction to help meet the spiritual needs of those CAARE serves. A dental clinic is on the drawing board. Working closely with the Veterans Administration, Elliott-Bynum hopes to expand the transitional housing for veterans program. In tribute to her many contributions, in 2009 North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue awarded Elliott-Bynum the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one of the state’s highest honors. (http://abclocal.go.com/wtvd/story?section=news/local&id=6942511)
Elliott-Bynum believes the work of CAARE is as important and necessary today as it was almost two decades ago. Health care costs have soared, the economy continues to stall, unemployment remains high, particularly in minority communities, people are still contracting HIV/AIDS. Replying to a reporter’s question about what motivated her to continue in her work after seventeen years, Elliott-Bynum replied, "Simply knowing that I have been able to increase access to both routine medical and dental care through our Free Clinic motivates me. Witnessing patients begin to take charge of their health keeps me motivate as well. I enjoy being a change agent." (http://www.bizjournals.com/triangle/print-edition/2012/03/23/finalist-dr-sharon-elliott-bynum--.html?page=all)
- Brokaw, S. (9-11-2008) “Health clinic for Kenya moving closer to reality” THE TRIANGLE TRIBUNE pg. A-1
- Offen, N. (April 20, 2009) Durham opium, cocaine ar rests have dropped 60% since the 1990s
- The Herald Sun, Durham, NC page C-1
In 1996, sisters Dr. Sharon Elliot Bynum, Patricia Amaechi, and Carolyn Hinton founded CAARE out of concern about the effect that HIV/AIDS was having on the community CAARE, which initially stood for “Case management of AIDS and Addiction through Resources and Education,” has expanded its strategies far beyond case management, resource referral, and education to provide a safety net of services that encompass peoples’ social, emotional, financial, and psychological situations. CAARE provides nontraditional health and human services that fulfill people’s most basic requirements first, and it then equips individuals with the knowledge they need to manage their own health. CAARE’s success in the community is driven by the organization’s commitment to intention, integrity, and inclusion for all community members—especially hard-to-reach and historically marginalized individuals. CAARE strives to eliminate health care barriers by advocating for a part of the Durham County community that is too often ignored.
(Description from CAARE The Healing Center website.)