what you have, even if you have very little,
is a noble sentiment.
G. Scott Morris 83M has seen the embodiment
of this philosophy in one of his patients, a ninety-eight-year-old
woman who picked cotton and worked as a housekeeper all
her life. She saves a nickel a day and brings bags filled
with the coins to the Memphis clinic Morris opened in
said it was to help us care for other people, says
Morris, clearly moved by the gesture.
who grew up in Atlanta, founded the Church Health Center
in Memphis, Tennessee, to help the working poor, elderly,
and homeless. The clinic is now the countrys largest
faith-based health center for the poor.
went to medical school for the purpose of being able to
do this, on a scholarship that had never been usedone
had to first be a United Methodist minister and then go
to medical school, says Morris, who earned his Master
of Divinity degree from Yale in 1979. I chose to
do so because the thought of preaching fifty-two sermons
a year sent shivers down my spine.
also felt that religious leaders and congregations had
been neglecting a significant part of their mission: to
tend to peoples bodies as well as their spirits.
A third of the Bible is about healing the sick,
he says, but churches have forgotten how to do this
Morris did some research and borrowed the best ideas from
other non-profit clinics, particularly the Chicago-based
Holistic Health Care, which was started by a Lutheran
chose Memphis partly because it has historically been
the poorest major city in America, says Morris,
who solicited donations to build the clinic from community
leaders, churches, hospitals, and businesses.
Church Health Center, which accepts no government funding,
now has 40,000 patients for whom it is the primary health
care provider. It has six full-time physicians and more
than four hundred doctors and specialists who volunteer
every few months. Most patients pay between $15 and $20
a visit, which includes medications and lab tests.
Reverend Gary Gunderson, director of the Interfaith Health
Program at the Rollins School of Public Health, has known
Morris since 1992, when he visited the clinic to observe
a cutting-edge example of a faith-health community alliance.
Memphis, Scott has built extraordinary relationships among
sectors that too often dont even talk, much less
find themselves in a common harness, Gunderson says.
He does this by being a wide-open thinker, but also
dirt practical and cold-bloodedly realistic about what
is possible to do this week. And when you do that for
twenty years, the Church Health Center is what you get.
of the clinics patients work in low-wage service
jobsas cooks, migrant workers, waitresses, maids,
laborers, clerkswhere they lack health insurance
but dont qualify for Medicaid.
patients dont want free care, Morris says.
They just want something they can afford.
clinic also serves refugees, both documented and undocumented.
many ways, were the United Nations of Memphis,
says Morris, who, in addition to serving as executive
director of the center, still treats patients. Rarely
a day goes by that I dont see someone from Mauritania,
in northwest Africa. How do you get from Mauritania to
Memphis? I couldnt tell you.
center has dental and eye clinics, as well, so that patients
can maximize their time and not have to travel to three
and four different offices.
you work a minimum-wage job, you cant just take
off and say, Im going to the doctor,
or Im taking my parent or my child to the
doctor. You might lose your job, he says.
a seventeen-year-old came into the center with a hurt
arm, which he had injured while working at a construction
site. When Morris asked about his home situation, he discovered
the teens father had been killed in a traffic accident
and his mother had died of breast cancer.
he was the primary bread winner for his family,
Morris says. The issue was how to get him back to
work as quickly as possible. Since he is working to build
our houses, and struggling to care for his family, surely
we have an obligation to care for him.
than four hundred congregations donate funds and volunteer
services to the center, from the most conservative
to the most liberal, says Morris, who is also an
associate pastor at St. Johns United Methodist Church
in Memphis. The array of communities who support
the center is remarkable. We couldnt all agree on
the price of a cup of coffee, but what we do agree on
is that God expects us all to care for those who are sick
caring for patients is only half of what the Church Health
Center does, says Morris. Its new Hope and Healing Center
offers health education, exercise and nutrition programs,
counseling and pastoral care, and childrens services.
For this unique approach, the Department of Health and
Human Services presented the center with the 2003 Innovations
in Prevention award.
every dollar we put into treating disease, we put a dollar
into preventing disease, Morris says. We focus
on anything to keep people healthy rather than waiting
until they are sick.M.J.L.