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VOL. 128 | NO. 211 | Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Healthy Memphis Common Table Marks 10 Years of Promoting Health

By Michael Waddell

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With a motto of “eat healthy, eat less and move more,” Healthy Memphis Common Table (HMCT) has made its mark in the local community during the past decade, encouraging the public to lead healthier lifestyles and to “get activated” with their health and health care options.

Denise Bollheimer and Dr. James Bailey, considered two of the primary catalysts behind the creation of Healthy Memphis Common Table, were honored during the organization's 10th anniversary celebration.


“Our mission is excellent health for all. We’re working to change the health and the health care of the community, as well as impact the health equity,” said CEO Renee Frazier, who joined HMCT in 2009. “We have various programs that focus on predominantly broad population health issues, including our signature focus on obesity and diabetes.”

Last week the organization highlighted its 10th anniversary with a Diamond Anniversary Celebration at the GameDay Baseball youth sports complex in Cordova. Draper’s Catering of Memphis LLC handled the event’s catering, which included menu labeling to show the caloric intake for each item.

The goal of Healthy Memphis Common Table is to execute on community programs funded through various grants from national foundations like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Merck Foundation. Eighty percent of the organization’s $1.5 million annual budget comes from grants.

“We also have strong support from health plans, and hospitals sponsor our work,” Frazier said.

HMCT was founded in 2003 as a nonprofit by a group of volunteers concerned with the declining health of Memphians. HMCT had been originally incorporated in April 2000 as the Justice in Health Care Foundation, with a mission to foster collaboration of all resources in the community to improve common health goals.

“We were initially very disillusioned and concerned about the way our health care system was going. It was not serving health, and consumers were getting the short end of the stick in the process,” said Dr. James E. Bailey, HMCT founding board chairman. “We wanted to help encourage coordination and a redesign of the health care system to better meet people’s needs.”

Bailey touts other founders like Denise Bollheimer, Dr. Robert R. Waller, Cristie Travis, Dr. Beverly Williams-Cleaves, Michael Provow, Dr. Grant W. Somes, and the Rev. Kathon Ann Kelley as instrumental in the group’s early development.

Crux issues for the group over the years have been looking at better managing patients and their relationship with their physicians or providers so they are more activated in their health and examining high-use patients in the emergency room and trying to reduce non-urgent emergency room visits.

“Much of our efforts are about taking charge of our health care resources and using them more effectively and efficiently to promote health,” said Bailey, who is now University of Tennessee Health Science Center professor of medicine and preventive medicine and director of the Center for Health Systems Improvement. “Since 2003 we’ve had a focus on giving consumers meaningful information about where to find good health care.”

In the next 10 years, Frazier and Bailey want to see recent positive trends continue to improve with obesity and diabetes, better management of health care costs and end of life care, and reduction of infant mortality rates and non-urgent emergency room visits.

“For the first time we have seen drops in Shelby County in obesity rates,” Frazier said. “It’s still higher than the state average, but for the first time the trend is going in the right direction.”

HMCT convened 37 different organizations to create alignment around the work that is being done locally to fight obesity.

“Of the 37 programs we documented, 21 of those programs were either directly involved as a partner or directly implementing some area of that initiative,” Frazier said. “We are also significantly involved in the statewide task force with the grocery industry to look at a statewide food financing program to bring grocery stores into low-income communities.”

Although not successful yet, the group has gotten the attention of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

“It’s a significant issue to make sure that healthy, affordable food is available in all neighborhoods, and we need financing incentives to bring full-service grocery stores into those neighborhoods,” Frazier said.

Another major area of focus for HMCT is better management of local health care resources and the associated costs. In its last Take Charge report from earlier this year, HMCT cited $129 million wasted annually at local hospitals from an estimated 219,000 non-urgent emergency room visits.

“We have a great amount of waste when it comes to emergency room use in Memphis and Shelby County,” Frazier said. “When you look at diabetic patients, probably 90 percent that end up in the emergency room should not have been there.”

HMCT works throughout the year with Leadership Memphis to provide menu labeling about caloric intake at corporate events. A new program rolling out in 2014 called “Preferred Choice” will focus on showcasing 500-calorie meals.

The once volunteer-only organization has evolved over the past decade to support a dedicated staff of 16 full- and part-time employees. The group just hired a new program coordinator, Kathy Lofton, to help with its hypertension initiative with Healthy Shelby. Lofton previously worked at BlueCross BlueShield.

As many as 500 participants are expected for The Million Calorie Burn 5K Walk/Run on Saturday, Nov. 2, at Highpoint Church inside the Ridgeway Loop.

“If we could get 1,000 people to come out and run even at a slow pace for three miles, they would burn roughly 1 million calories,” Frazier said.

The race captain will be Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., and race co-chair television morning show host Marybeth Conley. Post-race activities will include an awards ceremony, live music, food and more.

Proceeds will help HMCT continue programming to help reduce childhood and family obesity.

HMCT holds its next community event, its annual Let’s CHANGE Summit, on Jan. 15.

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