When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited Memphis in 1968, he was focused on a Poor People’s March that represented a spectrum of issues ranging from economic justice to the healthcare system. Over the last fifty years, many of those same issues persist.
The lack of access to healthcare in Tennessee was exacerbated when the Tennessee legislature chose not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Healthcare Act in 2015. In Memphis, however, local organization Church Health has helped fill the void for those who work but have no insurance. This extensive health operation provides care, extends compassion and provides resources to 70,000 workers and their families across the community.
Since its inception in 1987, Church Health has been committed to healing bodies and spirits, so people can enjoy the full richness of life. Distinguished by a commitment to whole-body health and compassion, what began as a small medical clinic located in a house in Midtown Memphis gradually grew to a comprehensive operation occupying thirteen facilities.
In 2017, Church Health consolidated its facilities under one roof, relocating to Crosstown Concourse, a redeveloped Sears distribution center. As the anchor tenant, Church Health provides high-quality, affordable medical care, dental care, eye care, behavioral health services, nutrition programs, physical therapy, wellness and children’s programs. Church Health works closely with the 42 dynamic entities within Crosstown Concourse that focus on health, education, and the arts, sharing in a commitment to be “better together.”
Church Health employs 20 medical providers and engages 1,000 volunteer physicians. Primary care services are offered onsite while sub-specialist physicians care for patients in their offices and in hospitals without charging patients. In addition, diagnostic services and in-patient hospitalization are offered to Church Health patients, who will not incur any cost for care.
Their services are offered without relying on federal funding. Memphis ranks as one of the most charitable cities in America, and the work of Church Health reflects the incredible generosity present in this city.
Church Health’s approach to healthcare centers on a belief that health is not about the absence of disease, but instead, it is about helping others live a wholesome life. Church Health has developed a Model for Healthy Living, which asserts that there are seven elements that are equally important for a healthy life and must be in balance: movement, nutrition, work, faith, family and friends, emotions, and medical care. The Church Health programming and services are driven by the understanding of these elements.
Nutritional programs are facilitated in partnership with the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane University, emphasizing the concept that “food is medicine.” Both healthcare providers and students are trained to understand the significance of balanced nutrition through courses aimed to build the skills and confidence to educate patients about food selection, preparation, and consumption.
Church Health’s dental program focuses on restoring patients’ smiles, oral health, and emotional well-being. Frequently, restored dental health leads to a patient’s improved sense of self-worth and ultimately to a higher-paying job offering health insurance.
A family medicine residency is housed at Church Health in partnership with the Baptist Memorial Health Care Family Medicine Program. The three-year training program attracts young physicians who want to serve the underserved, understand spiritual well-being, and care for patients through prevention and a whole-person approach. The desire to learn in this environment is stunning: the most recent class of residents was selected from an applicant pool of 1,800.
In addition, Church Health runs Perea Pre-School in a neighborhood north of Crosstown Concourse and the organization will open an elementary school in 2018. A charter high school will open this fall in the Crosstown Concourse. Following these openings, the teachers and young doctors will work in concert to care for families from birth through high school graduation.
Crosstown Concourse is the sixth former Sears distribution center to have been fully renovated, following successful efforts in Seattle, Minneapolis, Dallas, Boston, and Atlanta. The Memphis endeavor, however, was directly inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King’s notion of creating “a beloved community” by working collaboratively to serve the city.
As a result, the culmination of the events commemorating Dr. King’s life and legacy and marking fifty years since his assassination will take place at Crosstown Concourse the evening of April 4th. While this will be a night to remember Dr. King, it will present an opportunity for Memphis to look around and see what is possible when a community has faith, shares vision, persists, and comes together in efforts to follow his dream.