Nashville’s Medical Safety Net Clinic for the Working Poor

Howard Bradley weighs in as part of his medical care at Faith Family Medical Center.

By Clare Bratten

NASHVILLE, TN — Despite the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), some folks are still uninsured or underinsured. Faith Family Medical Center was created to do something about that.  It could be considered a “safety net” clinic and it is centrally located in downtown Nashville on 21st Avenue North. The clinic provides medical care, dental care, and mental health services at low cost or no cost on a sliding scale based on ability to pay. The clinic is clean, cheerful and it’s expanding. 

The clinic was started by two doctors – Dr. John Lamb and Dr. David Gaw who had done medical missionary work in Africa, but then realized the need also existed at home. They found a model for their clinic in Memphis at the Church Health Clinic founded by Dr. Scott Morris. The doctors and committed partners convinced the Board of Directors at the Baptist Hospital (now St. Thomas midtown) to provide a building rent free. 

Their model is based on preventative care and serving the working poor, so there is a requirement that people be able to demonstrate they are working at least 20 hours a week. Full time students are also eligible and need to provide proof of student status. The clinic doesn’t serve people on Medicaid or Medicare.  The Faith Family Medical Center has a website with a widget “Do I qualify?” to help people decide if they can receive care from the facility. Patients must also make appointments online or by telephone since it is not a walk-in clinic. The minimum office visit charge (including labs) is $20 and the maximum is $55 at this time. Some patients are seen for free.  

The clinic offers treatment in preventative care and “specialist” areas provided by doctors who volunteer their services. Qualifying patients are able to get help from doctors in cardiology, gynecology, dermatology, neurology, endocrinology, and orthopedic specialties. A visiting dentist was working on a patient the day a visitor stopped by. “We have a half-day diabetes or hypertension clinic once every six weeks,” said the clinic’s chief operations officer Sherry Mast. A garden in back of one of the clinic’s buildings is where the nutritionist recruits the patients to help grow vegetables and herbs as part of their instruction on better eating habits.

Opthalmologists do eye exams and nutritionists work with diabetic patients. They also have radiology services, and a mobile mammography unit serves patients every eight weeks.  In the month of December, they host “Operation Walk” where hip and knee replacements are free.  

“We get hips and knees [replacements] donated. Anesthesia is also donated,” said Sherry Mast.

The clinic is part of what Mast calls a “safety net consortium” with several nonprofits who sponsor medical care for the needy such as Men of Valor for the formerly incarcerated.  “We work with them and also refer people [to these organizations] if someone is not able to be one of our patients.”

The clinic is raising $7 million dollars for a two-story expansion building on a site they own and have raised $5.5 million. 

“The first floor is all about patients. We currently have six exam rooms and we’ll go to ten exam rooms. But we’re also plumbing out our [current] administration offices so when we outgrow the examination rooms, we can make these into exam rooms. We also added behavioral health – we have a behavioral health [mental health] nurse practitioner. . .able to do mental health care and prescribe.” 

The clinic also has an agreement with Lipscomb University pharmacy students come into the clinic and work on patient assistant programs to get patients free or extremely reduced prescriptions. “The most the patient pays out of pocket is $5,” said Mast.

There is no faith requirement to receive care. “We treat people of all faiths,” said Mast.

The clinic has relied on fund-raising, corporate and individual contributions since its inception. The founding doctors recruited a well-known health executive Charlie Martin, to help with fund raising. They convinced the Memorial Foundation, The Frist Foundation and the HCA Foundation and many individual contributors to establish the first phase of the clinic. With luck, they will finish the second expanded phase of the clinic in 2019 and be able to offer even more medical services to the underinsured and uninsured who are “the working poor.” 

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