Behind the Headlines – September 23, 2016

Behind the Headlines – September 23, 2016


(female announcer)
Production funding
for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by.. -Tonight on
Behind the Headlines, Dr. Scott Morris on
Crosstown, wellness, and changes at the
Church Health Center. [theme music] I’m Eric Barnes, publisher of
The Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. I am joined tonight
by Dr. Scott Morris, CEO, founder of what’s
now known as Church Health. We’ll talk about
that a little more. Thanks for being here. – Glad to be here. (Eric)
And Toby Sells is a
reporter with The Memphis Flyer. Thanks for being here again. – Thank you, sir. Let’s talk about that. I introduced it at the beginning
of the show as Church Health Center because that’s what
people have known for what now? Almost 30 years. You’re rebranding as
you’re moving into Crosstown. Talk about these changes because
it’s more than just a new logo, which it is, and a new name. But there’s some amount
of changing of focus. Talk about that. – Yeah, not really sure
there’s changing of focus. But we’re no longer a center. Church Health is far more than
just our little buildings on the corner of Peabody
and Bellevue now. The move to Crosstown really
gives us an opportunity to be engaged in a wider understanding
of what health is all about. Health is not about
the absence of disease. It’s about helping people
live a life well-lived. And that requires more
than a doctor to be involved. – And so, you’ll move when? – We’re moving in February. I read it in the newspaper. [laughter] – Okay. And you’re expanding. I mean, talk a little bit about
how many people you serve now. Just give people who aren’t
familiar with what you do, let’s get that out of the way
so that they understand what you all do. And then you’re
really kind of expanding, I think, in a number of ways
as you get over into Crosstown. But give some background. – So, our focus is to
engage the faith community. We don’t ever
back away from that. The faith community’s role to
take care of people who stand in the gap. That has for 29 years been
focused on people who work in low wage jobs and don’t
have health insurance. That continues to be an
enormous need in this community. But it’s not just the doctor. Dental care. In 2,500 pages of the
Affordable Care Act, the words “adult
dentistry” do not appear. It is not in there. Fixing people’s teeth puts
their smile back on their face. But it also allows
them to get a better job. Eye care,
counseling, substance abuse, and then the whole big
array around wellness is basically nutrition. – There’s a whole lot on all
those that are tied to being in Crosstown. But before I get Toby in,
about how many people a year do you serve? – A year is a complicated thing. In my mind and what
I’m confident of, there’s roughly 70,000 people
in Memphis who depend on Church Health
for their healthcare. – And about how many staff? And you have a
lot of volunteers. Give or take how many
people are involved. – We have 250 paid staff. We have 1,000 physicians
who volunteer with us. It’s truly an amazing thing that
happens in Memphis every day. – You’ll be moving
from 13 different locations across the city,
consolidating into one thing. I’m interested in that and the
opportunities that affords you. But I guess what opportunities
will that allow you to do to grow, to do new things,
to focus on more things? What are those? – So, internally it
allows our dieticians, our exercise folks, our health
coaches to be literally in the room with our physicians. Why should it always
just be about the doctor? For many people, the doctor is
like the least important thing. Changing behavior is the
critical thing to help people become healthier. So, we designed our clinical
space at Crosstown to actually make that happen. Then, the partnerships that have
now been formed at Crosstown, Church Health Y. Not only can you be in the
Church Health Wellness space, but you can be part of
the Y all over the city. And then we
formed a partnership with the Southern
College of Optometry. Our eye clinic will
literally have no walls. The SCO and Church
Health space will all be one. And then it goes on
and on from there. – And so, to get
there, you know, you have to have some
measure of success. Of course you’ve been around
for nearly 30 years and that in itself is a thing. But to make this move and t
make this huge thing happen, you’ve had to have a lot of
success over the last few years. Maybe you can talk about some
of the success that you’ve built there that’s led
up to this moment. – Well, the success
is just about Memphis. The success of Church Health
has everything to do with this community as its
generosity, its giving, its willingness to seriously
take care of our neighbors. You know, the people we care for
are the people who work to make our lives comfortable. They cook your food. They take care of your
kids, your grandkids. They cut your grass. They’ll one day dig your grave. They don’t complain. But what I have experienced is
people understand that and want to reach out and say how can we
lock arms and do this together. You know, we are a true
faith-based organization. But that means you don’t have to
believe the way Scott believes. Jewish,
Christian, Muslim, Hindu. God calls us all to
do the same things. And that’s what we do is try
to give people the opportunity to give back. – In 29 years, 30 years.. And I was thinking about this
when we were getting ready to do the show. I’ve been in
Memphis 20 years and, you know, there was
no farmer’s market. Now there are, I don’t know,
15 or more and lots of community gardens. And there were no bike lanes. And now there are bike lanes
everywhere and the Greenline and other paths and plans for more. That sort of transformation
that is about wellness and how people live. Again, back to I think your
point of the doctor being the least important part of this. Has that been edifying to see
that people are becoming more aware and taking
care of themselves? And are those kinds of things
like farmer’s markets and bike lanes and so on, are they
available to the working folks that you deal with? – Right. So, we have enormous challenges. But the opportunity, and I
really believe Crosstown will help us get there in a big way. I think food, for example,
is really the unifying factor at Crosstown. And really at the center of that
will be the nutrition center run by Church Health. It has two big components. One is something
called culinary medicine. We formed a partnership with
Tulane Medical School and a guy named Dr. Gourmet. He actually was a
successful chef in New Orleans. Goes to medical school and
learns that you don’t learn anything about
nutrition in medical school, which I can attest to is right. But this is all about
teaching medical students, doctors, not just in
Memphis, across the world, about how do you
actually eat better. And you do it by actually
getting in the kitchen and cooking. And this will be open
to other people to just learn cool things cooking. The other piece of our kitchen
will be in partnership as a commercial kitchen. So, all these programs you’ve
talked about have actually now come together, working together. Our kitchen will be their focus. And the issue of food deserts
in Memphis is complicated. With many of our patients,
you don’t solve the problem by giving a
28-year-old single mother, working two jobs, fresh fruits
and vegetables and tell her, now go home and spend
an hour-and-a-half cooking that food. There’s a 100% chance
that will not work. So, we’ve got to find a way to
give her healthy food for her children in a way that is
affordable and that she can prepare it in a
reasonable amount of time. – And just recently
announced that Curb Market, which is a store,
a grocery store, a locally sourced grocery store,
open in Cooper Young in the last year or so, will be opening a
much bigger store in Crosstown. And that had been
a goal, I think, from, you know, Todd Richardson
and the other people from the beginning of Crosstown. And there is a food
desert up there in some ways. Locally sourced food
would be available. And so you’re partnered
somewhat with Curb Market. And I should say the owner of
the Curb Market is the owner of The Daily News, which, you know,
doesn’t really matter too much but I should disclose that. So, but talk about
having Curb Market in there, which will bring
food from a lot.. It’s almost like a retail
farmer’s market to some extent. – That’s exactly right. And the food they prepare that
will be sold at Curb Market will actually be cooked in
the commercial kitchen of Church Health. So, Peter’s decision to come to
Crosstown is incredibly exciting to me and to
everybody that we work with. But there will
also be onsite a three-quarter
acre community garden. One the roof, there will be a
hundred tower gardens that if you’re not familiar with
that, this is a way to.. You don’t need any earth. It’s aeroponically grown. It’s a business run by
Juice Plus here in town. But a hundred tower gardens
will grow enough fruits and vegetables for
almost a thousand people. – Back to Toby. – Just thinking about
the transition that, you know, you’re going to
start moving in February. When are you going to close the
clinic over there on Bellevue and Peabody? – Yeah, so the idea is
not to have a big gap. You know, I know this is
probably nuts and I might regret saying this. But, I mean, we’re going to
be seeing patients one day on Peabody and we’re going
to be seeing patients on Crosstown the next. – And the other places
out there under Wellness, you’ll be out of there. You’ll be out of
the kind of iconic, I think, location of the
current Church Health Center. What’s going to happen to
some of those properties? – So, it’s very complicated
as you might imagine. Our wellness center on Union
will actually become taken over as classrooms by the
Baptist College of Nursing. Our spaces on Peabody
will be a combination of behavioral health programs. And then I’m very
excited about this, that the Dorothy Day House will
take over three of our houses and be places for
homeless families to live. – So, how do you.. Crosstown is in, you know, an
area that’s close to an area that the folks
you want to serve. But how do you get
out in the community? I mean, will you still have
other locations separate from Crosstown or how do you get
people to Crosstown who are maybe in Southeast,
you know, Memphis or Northeast Memphis, etcetera? – Yeah. So, this is one of those
things that people have always struggled to understand
how this works for us. But when I say we have a
thousand doctors who volunteer, most of them don’t come on site. They see people in
their own office. So, I effectively have
a thousand locations. – I’ve never understood
that which is my fault. But keep going. – So, they see people in
their own office all over the community. So, we have
doctors in Germantown, Collierville, South Memphis,
Southaven who are willing to take patients into their own
office and treat them for free. – So, in that
sense, Church Health.. I keep wanting to call
it Church Health Center. But Church Health
coordinates their care, coordinates those appointments. So, they go into whatever
doctor’s office just like any other patient. But you’re essentially
almost their insurer. – That’s exactly right. Coordination is the issue. And, look, I’m not for a moment
telling you that this is easy. It took us 30 years
to build the network. But the amazing thing is there
is really not a problem somebody could have from the cradle to
the grave we can’t take care of with the enormous support of the
medical community in Memphis. So, every hospital,
every laboratory, a thousand physicians. Again, this is one of these
things that Memphis should be beating its chest over not
because of Church Health but because of look at what
we’re doing to take care of our own community. – And talk a little bit back
into Crosstown building the YMCA that will be
there and how large. It won’t just be treating
people through or serving people through Church Health. Right? I mean, there are a whole lot of
tenants in the building who can take advantage of the Y
that will be in there soon. – Exactly. And that’s part of why our
wellness program needed to change because there will be
3,000 people in this building, many of whom are, you
know, fairly affluent. And so, that’s not the
mission of Church Health to deal with that. So, you can join the Y. You will have an
unbelievable place to exercise. There will eventually be
a pool and a gymnasium. So, we’re going to focus
on what we do really well. Issues of
nutrition, weight loss, health coaching
for our patients. Everybody will
have access to that. But the partnership with the Y
is one of those things we’re very excited about. – It’s always interesting. You know, I’ve known you. I was talking to you before the
show and I’ve known you for ten years now when I got started
on the healthcare beat a long time ago. And I would always check in with
you and with Church Health as kind of a barometer for
the rest of the economy. And I know that our economy is
doing better and the recession seems to have waned and things. But it Memphis
keeping up with that? Are you seeing it in your
patients and your patient mix and all those things? Are you seeing an improvement in
the economy just with the folks that you see? – You know, I’m not sure I am a
good barometer of that because we see the maximum number
of people we can every day. And that really has
not changed in 30 years. I will tell you one of the
things that has changed in our patient mix is 50% of our
new patients speak Spanish. Right. – I was at a
Latino Memphis event, I don’t know, two, three, four
weeks ago and it was amazing the numbers they had. 90,000 I think Latino families,
the number in the workforce. And it was really an eye
opening set of numbers. But kind of along with
what Toby is saying, over the past, and you’ve
been on the show talking about this before. Obamacare, the
Affordable Care Act, which you
referenced was rolled out, you know, what, almost
seven years ago now. Has that changed your clientele? Has it changed
your business at all? I shouldn’t call it a business
but the way you operate? Because it’s had such a big
impact on the rest of the healthcare community. Or are you in a space where it
just doesn’t really impact you? – In one word, I would say no. It’s made my life complicated
outside of our clinical setting. But, you know, the answer is no. And until Memphis.. Until Tennessee
expands Medicaid, it will have virtually no impact
on the people we take care of. Now if that were to happen, we
will actually be exceedingly aggressive about trying to
enroll people into Medicaid. But our problem right now is
that we’ve actually worked very hard to sign people up
on the Exchange and they just can’t afford it. – The options aren’t there
because the original plan, it’s such a politicized
issue in the Obamacare thing. But the original plan was that
states would be incented by the federal government
to expand Medicaid. They’d get it 100% for the first
couple of years reimbursements. And then it slides down to
about 90% reimbursement from the federal government. And about 25 states took on
Medicaid expansion and about 25 haven’t, give or take I think. More conservative states
like Tennessee haven’t. Is that just maddening for you? This what advocates of doing it
say this free money is out there to help the people in
need who are in a gap, many of them
working, contributing. They’re not.. They’re people
contributing and working. But.. So, does it just drive you nuts? – It ought to be maddening
for everybody because what is happening is we’re taking your
tax dollars and we’re giving them to people. Your tax dollars are going to
take care of the healthcare needs of people
in New York City. And they thank you for that. But because of
whatever political reasons, Nashville has said
thank you but no thank you. We hate the President so much we
would rather give Tennessee tax dollars to New York City. Now no matter what you think
about the Affordable Care Act, we’re giving away billions of
dollars outside of Tennessee for a reason that I don’t see it
making any sense what so ever. – Do you see that
changing at any point? I mean, maybe
when the president.. There’s a new
president in November. So, does that change
the political dynamic? – I believe so. I think no matter who
wins come next January, Tennessee will do something. I’m not sure exactly what it
will be whether it’s Speaker Harwell’s plan or
whether we actually, you know, get our brains around
this and actually go and expand Medicaid and take
this free money. But I don’t know. – I’ll go one more on this
and I’ll go back to Toby. The people who have
been on the show, state legislators, who did
voted against expansion, some of them have always said
we went through this terrible process some years ago with
TennCare of purging people from the role. – And it was terrible,
that’s exactly right. – It was difficult
and it was painful. And if we take this money now
that is free for a few years or is 100% free for a few
years and then it’s 90%, we’re going to run into a jam
and we’re going to have to purge the roles again. And so, we don’t
want to go through that terrible
experience again. – And I absolutely would
agree that that’s a risk. In the meantime, we are
giving billions of dollars away. – So, the state
exchanges, you know, if you’ve been
keeping up with that, that, you know, premiums, they
just got the state approval to raise the premiums. Blue Cross Blue
Shield of Tennessee, which is Chattanooga based, got
60% premium increase approved by state officials just last month. Two others, Cigna, Humana, they
were allowed to raise rates by 40% from thereabouts. Because they were ready to
shrink their footprints or leave the state altogether. And so, the Commerce Insurance
Commissioner Julie McPeak allowed them to
raise their rates. And that was.. She caught a lot of fire from
that from both sides of the party. Of course, Republicans saying
that the increases just show that Obamacare is not working. These exchanges
aren’t working for people. And Democrats have said that was
a political move on their part because McPeak used some
language that said that they were very near
collapse in the state. And a lot of political
posturing going on around that. And while it’s not on
the official agenda, I don’t think, for the state’s
special session next week, it will definitely be talked
about I’m sure as they kind of come around there. So, there’s some more movement
happening around there for sure. – The politics of this,
y’all, is beyond my paygrade. But what you just said is
exactly why Church Health has to grow in this community. One of the things I say all the
time is that anybody in Memphis is crazy to argue with each
other because we have all chosen to live in Memphis. Nobody cares about
Memphis except for Memphians. Nashville doesn’t. I am 100% sure
Washington doesn’t. So, we just have to roll up our
arms and take care of our own. And that’s what
Church Health does. And we do it in an amazing way. But I can assure you we need
your support in order to do this because no matter what
happens in Washington, it will not put as
out of business. – And talk about expansion plans
maybe just a little bit for y’all coming up down the road. You have a big new
space, new patients, new doctors. – Yeah. So, we’re going from
27 exam rooms to 62. Just gives you a feel for that. We’re going from nine dental
chairs to 24 dental chairs, what will become one of the
largest free-standing dental clinics in America. Our eye care, our
behavioral health issues. The problem with
substance abuse in this community, y’all. Rich, poor, black,
white, beyond belief. We just put our head
in the sand around it. You know, we’re not putting
our head in the sand about it. We’re going to do
our best to try to, again, engage the faith
community to say this is something we
ought to care about. And then, y’all, the issue I
will lay down in the street over is around immigrant workers. You know, I don’t know what
our future immigration policy will be. But if you’re
working in Memphis, you’re building a
house in Germantown, you’ve been here for ten years,
you fall off the roof and you break your arm, I believe
we have some obligation to help you. And if you come
to Church Health, you’re going to get the best
care that we have to offer. – I don’t want to put you in a
weird place but I’ll ask anyway. What are the
legalities about that? I mean, you just don’t ask? I guess you don’t have to ask
for identification if you’re going to treat someone
who has fallen off a roof. You don’t have to check their.. At this point, you’re
just going to help them. (Scott)
That’s exactly right. – And you may know that
this person is here illegally. You may have a sense of
it but it’s just not.. You’re not going
to ask, I guess. – Actually I do ask about
whether they are undocumented because it helps me figure
out a path of moving forward. But y’all, we don’t have
enough time to tell stories. But I can tell you horror
stories that you’re going, that couldn’t
possibly happen in America. But it does. And we see it every day. – I’m gonna switch
back to the building. There’s a high school going
in the building and it’s not opening but in a
year-and-a-half or so. Will you guys be involved with
that in any formal way or just sort of informally? – How cool is this? One of the things that people
don’t know we’ve done for almost 20 years is run a preschool. It’s just a mile from Crosstown. Got Klondike Elementary. You could argue maybe the
poorest neighborhood in Memphis and maybe one of the poorest
neighborhoods in America. But we have 178 children. And our success rate is amazing. But what we get excited about is
those children could eventually come to Crosstown High School. And it could be a mix between
children who live in Klondike who started at Perea
and then they graduate from Grace St. Luke’s. Why do they have to go to a
private school in the future if you have an incredibly fantastic
Shelby County School right there. That’s the better mouse trap. And so, yes, we will
absolutely be involved in Crosstown High School. – This is a bit of a shift
but we’ve covered it a lot. I think you all have
covered it as well. We’ve had it on the show. The changes in the medical
district and trying to make that area which is such a strange
area with all these institutions from St. Jude to.. They’re a little
out of the way there. But, you know, I
still call it The Med. Where Regional One
is, where Methodist is, and how it’s a
very unlivable place. And there are, what? Twenty to thirty
thousand people who work there. I was thinking because we’re
going to be talking about these wellness issues
and health issues. It’s fascinating to me that in
that area for most of the 20 years I’ve been in Memphis, the
only thing you could get to eat in the medical district with
these world class facilities were fried chicken, cheese
burgers and french fries. And then not walkable. Just kind of the worst sort of
landscape in terms of health both in living. You’ve got to commute far. Food is just awful. Your thoughts on that. I know you guys aren’t directly
involved or I don’t think you’re directly involved. But your thoughts
on this kind of them looking inside themselves. Does this reflect a little bit
more of the medical community going, hey, all we do is we
teach you how to do heart surgery but we don’t teach you
how to eat well and exercise and avoid the heart surgery. – And so, the reason for
that, believe it or not, has to do with the money. You know, you’re not
paid to teach people about how to eat better. So, that’s why we formed
this partnership with Tulane. I absolutely believe that the
food issues that Crosstown will be transformative, not just for
the Crosstown area but for all of Memphis. We will be training doctors
around how you get them to actually learn to teach people. And then within the
neighborhood itself. There’s intentionally only
60,000 square feet of retail space at Crosstown. There will actually be
several restaurants there. But 3,000 people, small
city, living and working there. And they’re going to get
bored with the building. And it will spread out into
the opportunity to build new restaurants, new
food opportunities in and around Crosstown. – But you were on the show when
all of this was announced a year or two ago. And you were very pointed that
you didn’t want to be a part of gentrifying that neighborhood. It’s a mixed income neighborhood
that in some ways has seen some better times. But does that still.. Does it worry you
when you talk about.. And we said it before. The average income
of the people working there can be medium to high. Does that inadvertently
gentrify the neighborhood? – So, we care deeply about the
neighborhood just north of us. That’s where
Perea, our preschool, is. Over the last year, we’ve
had some multiple shootings in our playground. I’m not good with that. So, the people with
guns, I want to leave. But the people who have lived
there and care deeply about that part of town, we’re
bringing them with us. You know, poor people love art. Poor people love to eat well. You know, they
don’t have to go away. We are doing this together
because I believe this is what God’s imagination is all about. – Alright. Well, thank you for being here. Thank you, Toby. And thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. [theme music]

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