VOL. 131 | NO. 117 | Monday, June 13, 2016
CHC Eyes Crosstown Move, Won’t Rush to Fill Sheehan’s Post
By Michael Waddell
The Church Health Center is gearing up to move into and begin seeing patients at the renovated Crosstown Concourse early next year, with no immediate plans to fill the vacant president’s position following the departure of Antony Sheehan last month.
CHC founder Dr. Scott Morris is happy that the Crosstown move is finally right around the corner.
“The beauty of the move to Crosstown is to be under one roof. We currently operate in 13 buildings, and it’s actually pretty inefficient,” Morris said. “We’ve literally tried to be under one roof for 10 years, and now, thank God, it’s really going to happen.”
CHC plans to consolidate services, including its clinical and wellness facilities, into 150,000 square feet in Crosstown Concourse when it opens in February 2017. Construction began on the nearly $200 million, mixed-use project in January 2015. CHC will hold on to its first building on Peabody Avenue, where its administrative offices are located.
“The move will increase our capacity to see patients by almost 98 percent, and our dental clinic will go from nine dental chairs to 24 dental chairs,” Morris said.
CHC is also building an eye clinic at Crosstown “without walls” in partnership with the Southern College of Optometry. Both will run an eye clinic out of the same shared space.
“The partnership takes our working relationship with Church Health Center and its physicians to a new level for the most effective and efficient delivery of care,” said Dr. James Venable, SCO director of clinical programs. “It will be the epitome of what health care of the future will look like – truly integrated care to enhance access, decrease cost and improve quality.”
For the first time, SCO optometric physicians, students and interns will work side-by-side with family practice residents and medical physicians to provide coordinated health care.
“We are very excited about this new opportunity,” said Venable. “While we have been caring for Church Health Center patients in need of our services for years, this new project allows us to streamline the process and provide care to members of families who may have differing types of health care coverage or no coverage at all.”
Another unifying aspect of Crosstown will revolve around nutrition and food issues, including a new partnership with Tulane Medical School focusing on culinary medicine. The building will also be home to two charter schools, including one run by Goodwill for adults called the XL Academy where underemployed adults will be able to earn their high school diploma.
Crosstown will house 18 homegrown, Memphis-based entities primarily focused on health and health care, education and the arts.
With combined residential, office, community use and retail components, the 1.5 million-square-foot former Sears & Roebuck regional distribution center will include approximately 1.1 million square feet of rentable space, along with 247 apartments designed for the young doctors, artists and educators.
“The magic of the building is all about addressing the brain drain in Memphis – taking the young and brightest that we have in the city, letting them live together and then seeing what they will create,” Morris said.
He said Church Health Center stands in the gap of health care.
“Caring for people who have nowhere else to turn for health care has always been what we do,” he said, “focusing on working people who are not impacted in any significant way by the Affordable Care Act.”
Internally, Morris said he does not anticipate filling Sheehan’s position of president in the very near future. Sheehan, who joined CHC in 2013, stepped down in May and joined Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare as a senior adviser a few days later.
“Anybody who knows the Church Health Center very well knows we have a very deep bench,” Morris said. “The bottom line is we’re in no hurry to replace that position. We will find my successor in a measured fashion, but in the meantime we have to roll up our sleeves and get to Crosstown.”
Interestingly, Sheehan's new role at Methodist will put him in charge of projects that will allow them to work closely together.
“He contributed a great deal to us here, and I think there’s a lot of exciting possibilities with working with him at Methodist,” Morris said.
A difference in philosophy cited for why Sheehan left the CHC boiled down to the hotly debated topic of whether faith-based organizations should accept federal funding in order to be able to expand and see more patients.
Morris believes the CHC should remain strictly a faith-based program without government ties and obligations.
“The government should not do the work of the church, nor should we ask it to," he said.
Memphis-based Resurrection Health CEO Dr. Rick Donlon recently made the decision to partner with Knoxville-based Cherokee Health Systems, partly in order to open up federal funding opportunities for their faith-based group.
“It’s so very expensive to provide health care, and then to do it for people who have poor paying insurance or no insurance at all is super difficult to do at any significant scale without getting some additional help for the costs,” Donlon said. “However, the position that we should not rely the government to do what people of faith and the church ought to be doing anyway is a very strong argument.”
Next up for the CHC will be starting up a family practice residency in partnership with local Baptist hospitals at the beginning of July. Four young doctors will be trained in the CHC way, and four new spots are planned to be added each year.
Part of the recruitment process relies on participants planning to stay in Memphis to practice after their residency, as well as integrating time at the CHC’s preschool at Klondike Elementary.