When Health Care
Isn’t About Profits

Memphis’ Church Health Center serves as a role model for the rest of the nation
Story by Tonya L. Thompson photos courtesy of Memphis’ Church Health Center

hat would you do if you were sick and uninsured?  Would you wait it out and hope it’ll go away on its own, despite the pain?  For more than 100,000 people across Shelby County, this is a very real dilemma, but thanks to the Church Health Center located on Peabody Avenue in Memphis, health care for the uninsured has been affordable and accessible for more than 20 years. 


Founded in 1987 by Dr. G. Scott Morris, the Church Health Center provides comprehensive medical care for the low-wage uninsured in the region and serves approximately 42,000 patients each year.  This care includes vision, dental, social services, psychiatry, counseling and physical therapy, in addition to a walk-in clinic serving uninsured patients in need of immediate care. 


The only requirements are that you must be uninsured, you must work at least 20 hours a week (unless you are younger than 18, the sole caregiver to a young child or a student), and you must be a Shelby County resident.


This type of service has filled a desperate need in Memphis — a city that has reached the apex of several ‘top-10’ lists for being one of the unhealthiest metropolitan areas in the nation.  In fact, this was one of the reasons Memphis was chosen as a point of origin for the Church Health Center’s services.


“Dr. Morris, a native of Atlanta, read that Memphis was one of the poorest major cities in America,” says Jeff Hulett, PR and Communications Coordinator for the Church Health Center.  “[Dr. Morris] figured if this model could work in Memphis, it could work anywhere. Today, we’ve grown to become the largest faith-based organization of our type in the country.”
According to Hulett, the Center’s mission is to provide quality, affordable healthcare to uninsured working people and their families.  This vision of health care, however, goes


beyond the immediate need and works toward helping individuals and families achieve optimum health by strengthening their bodies and minds through innovative, high-quality programs.  These programs include cooking classes, group exercise, activities for children and more at their Church Health Center Wellness, a certified medical fitness facility.


As an additional part of their outreach, the Church Health Center reaches out to the faith community.
“We help congregations start or sustain healing ministries in their churches via our Faith Community Outreach work and focus on teaching people how to live healthier, more joy-filled lives,” says Hulett.


Fees are based on a sliding scale at both the Wellness Center and clinics but the $35 required to be seen by a doctor for a walk-in appointment doesn’t nearly cover the Church Health Center’s expenses.


“We ultimately rely on donations,” says Hulett.  “We are supported by every local hospital network, churches and thousands of individuals in the community that believe in our work. We do not seek or rely on government funding.”


With more than 200 employees and a network of more than a thousand volunteers, the Church Health Center is a collective of people who seek to make a difference in the health of the city of Memphis. In fact, many of the volunteers who work for Church Health Center are medical professionals who see some of the patients in their own offices at the reduced fee.


So what’s the most rewarding aspect of the Church Health Center for the people who run it?  According to Hulett, it’s seeing the Church Health Center’s model replicated in other cities across the nation.  “We don’t franchise,” says Hulett, “but many communities have their own needs and three times a year, we offer a replication workshop that teaches people how to do what we do.”


As a multiple-year recipient of the healthiest employer award, the Church Health Center is a nonprofit organization that is committed to not just talk the talk but to also walk the walk.  In doing so, they accept and rely on private donations to continue to offer this valuable service to the Memphis community.  Medical professionals who are interested in donating their services or private donors interested in donating to the Church Health Center may do so by visiting their facilities at 1210 Peabody Avenue, their website at www.ChurchHealthCenter.org, or by calling (901) 272-7170.

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