60,00 Organizations nationally have followed Atlanta native Scott Morris '72's lead, but meanwhile he is the single most transformative leader in Tennessee.
THE PATH TAKEN
Malcolm: We’re happy to have a chance to catch the story about how you got to where you are right now from Westminster, even if there was a big disconnect along the way...
Scott: It actually wasn't, so I'm happy to talk about the connection. So I grew up in Sandy Springs and I don't know where y'all grew up, but in 1968, in the eighth grade, when I went to Westminster, Sandy Springs was thought to be out in the boondocks. Kevin Kaufman and I used to carpool along with Bruce Bryant to get to Westminster. We were not from Buckhead and whatever, so it was always this sort of different experience for us. But I was always interested in issues of faith and religion and the like, even though I sort of saw myself as an athlete at Westminster. Despite trying to play football and basketball and baseball, trying to really take seriously what a life of faith would look like is what drove me at every turn.
And you know, not so much the guy who taught us ninth grade Old Testament, which was a joke, but Ron Fraze, who you may or may not remember, he and I completely connected and he helped me in a lot of ways with my own thinking about this.
Suzy: I loved that class, the World Religion class.
Scott: Totally agree. At Westminster, I read the Bible and could not help but notice that a third of, especially the New Testament, has to do with healing the sick. It's on every page. But I would look around to see what churches did, including my own and there just wasn't much to it. We prayed for people on Sunday morning, the pastor was expected to visit people in the hospital. A few people visited the shut-ins and that defined our healing ministry. I came to realize all over the country, we have built large hospitals that have church names on them. They do good work, but they have almost nothing to do with worshiping congregations. It seemed to me that there ought to be more to it than that. So at Westminster, I'm thinking, what does that look like for me professionally? It was either that or pitch for the Atlanta Braves.
I don't understand why the Braves never called.
I'm only halfway joking about that, y'all. Anyway, I set out from Westminster at that point to try to figure out how I could be professionally involved in the church without having to preach 52 sermons a year. I mean, the thought of that sent shivers down my spine, still does. I have no idea how anybody could do that. But I set out on a path in leaving Westminster to figure out how I could connect both faith and health in my own life and find a career that would allow that to happen. So I pretty much knew from the time I left Westminster that I was going to do two things, I was going to go to seminary and I was going to go to medical school. Now I would talk about that at Westminster and people would tell me, you're too young to know that's what you're to do. That's gonna change.
But it wasn't going to change. I mean, there are a lot of things at Westminster that actually reaffirmed in my head that this is sort of a goal that was worth pursuing. And I truly believe I would not be where I am now without having gone to Westminster. There were elements about it that that sort of gave me the courage to want to set out on a path that was not the norm. And then I had, you know, in the course of being in Westminster, I've met people who just, it all felt right.
So anyway, I left Westminster. I went to UVA. How I got to UVA is I went to Mr. Lauderdale and he asked me, where do you want to go to college? And I go “Princeton.” He says, you'll hate it. Go to Virginia. And I say, okay. I mean, he may be right. I would've hated Princeton, but truthfully, that was not good advice for me. I was never gonna fit in at Virginia. Partly, if you know Virginia's fight song, the words are, “from Rugby Road, to Vinegar Hill, we're going to get drunk tonight.” That just was never me.
Anyway, I went to Virginia and it was a good experience in that I essentially majored in zero knowledge! I knew I was going to seminary and medical school but I didn't want to waste my undergraduate degree. So I took courses in medieval, Japanese literature and African history, and that part was good. I spent a year in London, which was a fantastic experience. Then in deciding where I was going to go to seminary, I wrote about a dozen different seminaries telling them about my interest in connecting faith and health. And they either didn't respond, or wrote back saying, good idea, we got nothing. But Yale wrote back with a 10 page statement on if I were to come to Yale divinity school here's what would happen.
So, as a result, one more time, I just applied to one place.
I go to Yale Divinity School, which was truly a transformative experience. I spent those three years there looking at what the church has historically done around this issue of faith and help. And I'd come to realize there's a reason these hospitals have church names on them. We just forgot. I can talk to you literally for days about the history of the church involvement in faith and health. But I'll spare you right now. Anyway, then one day I'm in the chaplain's office at the Yale Medical School, and I look on his desk and there's a little pamphlet written by a Lutheran pastor in Chicago that says how to start a church based health clinic. And I go, that's it! That is what I want to do.
Over the next few years I go meet this guy. I come to realize there's a lot of people who care about the link between faith and health. It's not just me. And I then set out on this journey where I now really feel like I have a sense of what I want to do. I ended up starting medical school at Yale. But as much as I love Yale Divinity School. I absolutely hated Yale Medical School and almost immediately transferred to Emory. I finished medical school at Emory. I do a residency in family medicine in Virginia, and then I'm now finally ready to start my own church based health clinic. I want to stay in the South.
I don't want to go back to Atlanta, because it had just gotten to be too big. I didn't need to go back. But then -- I'm not making this up -- I read somewhere that Memphis is the poorest major city in America. And based on that, I say, I'm going to Memphis. At that point. I was 32 years old. I was too young, too dumb to realize that what I wanted to do had no chance to succeed.
Scott: I came to Memphis, literally selling off an empty cart. I did not know one person, just knocking on doors to talk about what this faith-based health center would look like. I was led to a church ironically called St. John's United Methodist church. I say ironically because I'd grown up at St. John's Methodist church in Atlanta. And the pastor at this church had played a really interesting role with Martin Luther King and the garbage worker strike in Memphis. He was referred to by the sanitation workers as the quote unquote one good white man.
He was friends with the mayor, but was the person that King’s camp actually trusted. Anyway, he took me under his wing and helped me with getting off the ground, with what would first be named the Church Health Center -- and now we drop the name, it's just Church Health. It took me a year to get the doors open, but we opened September 1st, 1987. And our mission then was the same as it is today. Which is, we provide health care under the umbrella of the faith community in the broadest sense. Take care of the people who work to make our lives comfortable. They cook our food. They take care of our children. They wash our dishes. They cut our grass. They'll one day dig our graves. They don't complain. Yet when they get sick, their options are very few.
We started in this one little house. This one church bought this house, which was falling down. Another very large evangelical non-denominational church, gave us the money to renovate it, which was a miracle unto itself. And then to start something called the Church Health Center that had a cross in its logo was going to be led by a Methodist minister, me. I went to the most obvious place for funding to open our doors, which was a Jewish family foundation. And I tell you that because it's reflective of who we are. In the new Testament Paul says "we see through a glass darkly." You know, what I think that means is that none of us have all the answers. Diversity in all its forms is a good thing. And so we have leaned into that for 34 years.
We saw 12 people the first day we're open. We have grown to where there are well over 70,000 people in Memphis who depend on us for their healthcare. We are the largest faith-based privately funded health center in America. There's a lot of disclaimers there. But we currently have 20 physicians on our staff. This is our job. We have a thousand physicians who volunteer with us, that's not a made up number. We go to doctors all over the city with the help of the Memphis medical society and ask them to donate their time when they're seeing our patients. We have an arrangement with all the hospitals in town, but as long as the physician donates his or her time, we can admit people to the hospital free of charge. So there's not a problem somebody could have from the cradle to grave we can't take care of.
THE MISSION, ENVISIONED
Scott: But to truly understand what we do, you have to understand our view of health. Being healthy is not about the absence of disease that the World Health Organization would agree with. Who cares if you live two years longer, but it means two years longer in a nursing home? Life for life’s sake can't possibly be the point. Breathing in, breathing out, none of us are signing up for that. So what we would argue in order to be healthy for all of us, for our patients, for the four of us talking now, you need three things. More joy in your life, more love in your life, and to be driven closer to those things greater than we are. Now, we would call that God, you don't have to call that God. But in order to be healthy, you need those three things.
But if that's what it takes to be healthy, it doesn't have a lot to do with the doctor, does it? That led us to create something we call the model for healthy living.
If you're familiar with the social determinants of health, this is just a riff on that, but we would argue that there are seven things in life that are equally important to life and must be in balance if you're going to be healthy. One of them is medical care, but it's only one. In this country, we are currently spending a trillion dollars a year for the doctor, for the hospital and for drugs and it only has 10% to do with your health outcomes. 10%, that's it. You could argue that maybe we're not spending the money very wisely.
The other six are, for starters, nutrition. Your mother told you, you are what you eat. She was right.
Movement, our bodies were made to move. Emotions. Family, and friends, which you can call community. Work, we define work is one of those things that bring meaning to your life. And lastly, your faith life. We would argue your faith life is as important as anything the doctor would do. Anyway, these are seven things we evaluate every patient on. And, based on how a person really rates themselves, it’s the driving force around how we care for that person.. And they are the driving force that create our programming.
Now we started in this one little house and then on July 8th, 2011, a young art historian came to talk to me about an idea that he and his friends had of turning a former Sears distribution center into an artist colony.
So Suzy, or Malcolm, I don't know if you know Ponce City Market  in Atlanta, but Sears in the 1920s built 10 distribution centers around the country. When you think about it, Sears was Amazon before anybody thought of Amazon. Somewhere along the way, Sears missed the memo. And as a result of their failed business practices, they quit publishing the Sears catalog in 1992. And therefore these distribution centers were all abandoned at that point. Two are torn down but six have now been fully restored, Seattle, Minneapolis, Boston, Dallas, Atlanta, and Memphis. To give you a sense of scale, the building in Atlanta, which is on Ponce De Leon is 2 million square feet in size. It's the largest brick building in the world. The building in Seattle is the home office of Starbucks. It's a million square feet of coffee. And then our building is right in the middle of 1.5 million square feet. In square footage, it's the same size as the Empire State Building if turned on its side.
Anyway, these artists wanted to renovate our building, which had been abandoned for almost 30 years. There're 3,200 windows, every last one was broken. It was surrounded in barbed wire. It had gotten to be why would gangs write anything more on the building? What more was there to say? And they wanted to turn that into an artist colony.
So that is a financially viable idea right? No that had no chance. What they wanted from us is to be their doctors once they moved in here. What they didn't know is that we had grown into 13 buildings and had become very inefficient. So what I said to them in 2011 was, "What if we move in there with you?" So I married one crazy idea with another crazy idea.
And then for the next three and a half years, working with their leader I effectively become a developer until we ultimately get to where we are now -- 46 entities that have signed long-term leases to be in our building. There are 265 apartments. Every last one is rented and it is amazing what $300 million can do to an abandoned building.
HOW IT WORKS
Scott: So we moved in here four years ago. Church Health is the anchor tenant. We have 150,000 square feet here. Along with our staff physicians we now run a family medicine residency, training young doctors on the Church Health way. We have built the largest freestanding dental clinic in America. In 2,500 pages of the Affordable Care Act, the words adult dentistry do not appear. But dentistry is an economic issue. You can't go from a minimum wage job to a better job if your teeth are all messed up. We have an eye clinic that works the same way.
We have a truly amazing nutrition center. We are leaders in what's known as culinary medicine, food is medicine. So we train our young doctors and medical students in this idea of food as medicine, but we also have volunteers who will cook meals. And then our patients who we believe are food insecure, when they leave, along with getting whatever their prescription might be, get a prescription that includes a healthy meal for that night. This allows us to move down a path where their nutritional habits improve in a direction that will lead to better health outcomes.
Now, besides just what we do in the building, as I told you, I was a developer trying to figure out who do we want as our partners, so we have a high school in the building. This high school was incredibly creative. Their ninth grade biology class actually meets in our kitchen and we use food as a way to teach the kids biology. And then they intersect with our young family doctors so that they're focused on school-based healthcare.
We have a credit union in the building. There are 11 restaurants. Of course our arts groups are very much there, for people deserve art. Teach for America for Memphis is based here. Plus there's something called a Memphis teacher residency, which is like Teach for America only it's a Memphis-based program. So you get the sense of what the building is. Anyway, that's where I am right now and I've talked way too long.
Malcolm: I absolutely love this story. I could hear it again and again.
Michael: You covered a lot of ground.
Malcolm: It triggers so many different ideas in my head. And I'm sure, almost anyone who listened to this would be initially astonished at what you've made. One of my questions is, you've been doing this for so long and so hard and successfully… when you wake up these days, do you still kind of look around and feel astonishment yourself that it's there?
Scott: There's an element. I feel astonished, but especially around Crosstown. But you know Frederick Nietzsche, the guy who actually declared that God is dead. In his most famous book Beyond Good and Evil, he declared that in order to have the experience of good in your life, you need to focus on what he described as long obedience in the same direction. Nietzsche would probably not be too happy that somebody like me, declared a Christian minister, would use his phrase to define the work we do. But I think it's very on point. I mean, Malcolm, this is what I do every day. I don't really consider it to be work. It's hard for me to distinguish what's work and it's incredibly fulfilling.
One of the things I love is somebody a lot smarter than me once said you should over invest in the young. So not only do we have our residency training young doctors, but one of my favorite things we do is called Church Health Scholars. It's a gap year program. Most of them will finish college, and want to go to medical school. They don't all want to go to medical school, but they work with us for a year. And then we are very formative on what they end up doing. You know, we have over a thousand of them that have gone on to medical school. Mary and I don't have any kids. And so all of these young people are our kids and it's just exciting to watch what they create moving on.
Malcolm: We've had the very good luck and a certain amount of successful arm twisting talking to people over the last three months about what do we do about COVID. Because I did get a chance to talk to you once before and not that long ago, what's really coming into the foreground for me now, hearing the story again, is that compared to what I hear, and wind up talking about most days, which is a world in turmoil, you know, a world characterized by things being pulled apart. You have this spectacular oasis of connectedness and interaction and mutual nurturing going on, that just entirely makes sense on its own. You saw a need long ago, you jumped into it, and you grew what you have. And now, compared to most other things that are out there, you're showing, “here's how we're going to get through this. This is how you do it.”
Scott: COVID has been an interesting year for us that does allow people to focus on the very work that we do. We are a true charity. We are fully focused on engaging the faith community to do the work we are about. So we're not a federally funded, anything. The government cannot do the work of the faith community and neither should we ask it to. What COVID has allowed us to do is really engage our faith community partners over doing this type of work. I do a monthly podcast, broadcast on a radio station we have also in the building, and we just finished recording it right before I got on with you.
The senior rabbi of Temple Israel, which is one of the largest US congregations in America, will tell you that Church Health is the most Jewish institution in Memphis. Nothing makes me happier than to hear that. I think our Muslim friends would say the same thing, that we're the most Muslim institution, because we live into what we are called to do in that regard. And COVID has helped in that regard for faith leaders to realize that health is something that they should care about.
The second thing is that COVID is a disease of the poor. I mean, it's amazing to me how this doesn't get emphasized very much, but all these people who are dying, yes, we all have friends and know people who have died, but all, you know, 500,000 people, 85% of them are poor. And it's all over the issue of, they cannot physically distance. They can't isolate. 50% of our patients speak Spanish and they don't want to be tested because of the impact it will have on their work. As a result, they get sick. We are in charge of testing for Memphis. We run a testing site here at Crosstown. At this point we're not doing the vaccine part because the bureaucracy of it makes your head spin. I do think COVID has just been an interesting year for us in that regard.
Malcolm: So let me ask you an odd question. I'm saying it's odd because I'm sure that most people will think, how do you not know the answer to this already? But I'm going to ask anyway, because I want to hear it from you. What really defines a faith-based community? We're in an outrageously secular culture.
Scott: That's a great question, Malcolm. So there's a concept in the Christian world, but I would say across the board, called the Emerging Church which is giving us this great opportunity to rethink what church is. Crystal clear to me, I'm in church. It has nothing to do with buildings. It has to do with engaging people in community, that will help people feel this connection to those things greater than we are. You can call it God, if you want to, it's not about having the right theology. It's not about the right thinking. It is about acting in a way that brings about joy, love, and feeling connected to these things that were beyond us.
Now with that said we don't turn away anybody. I mean, you may not theologically agree with me on anything. I'm in Memphis, man. We're the buckle of the Bible belt. We engaged in a lot of congregations, but, you know, theologically, I think they're nuts, but it's not a reason for us to not want to be connected with them and actually give them the opportunity to make a difference in people's lives that truly make their lives better. Anyway, that's sort of how we define what faith-based is. Again, it's not about believing the right set of whatever. It is about commitment to strive, to find a way to be connected in those things that God ultimately wants us to do. I believe we are born to be connected to God. We just have forgotten how to do it.
Malcolm: Just yesterday. We were talking with one of our other classmates, Wanda Ward. We'll be happy to provide the session to you. I think the two of you would definitely have a really memorable get together,
Scott: Because we separately had a boys and girls school, I mean, Wanda was somebody who I knew who she was, but I wouldn't say I know Wanda Ward. I mean, not really. No.
Michael: Well it's interesting that in both cases for you and Wanda, a lot of your community at Westminster was sports. That fell aside once she went to college and it sounds like it fell aside when you went to college. Except for that prospect, with the Braves.
Malcolm: Well we're going to contact Ted Turner later.
Scott: Well, Malcolm and I were friends and I'm not quite sure how we got through that. I mean, Michael, we may have known each other. I mean like in passing, but you weren't on the football team.
Michael: No, I wasn't. I wasn't a sports guy. I was more of like an AV guy or theater guy and might record games. I might be up in the stands, videotaping them. But the only time I played football for Westminster was when I was in sixth grade. And that was, that was enough for me.
Wanda is in Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in the Chancellor's Office working on community issues and trying to find community between the university system and the community. And you have found a terrific connection. I mean, another one that for me personally my parents were doctors. My brother was a doctor, my brother and father both went to Emory for medical school. And my brother would have been about 10 or 12 years ahead of you there, I think. But he was always interested in extending the reach of medicine. And while I was in high school, I was also sort of a film guy. I'd helped him do a short documentary while he was at Emory that was used for a poor community of people who basically lived under an airport runway in Atlanta. That was where the community was. He was part of the student organization that was providing health clinics to those folks. And so we did a short documentary that helped him get some funding for that.
There are a lot of people who have interest in the sort of thing you're doing. Are there others who have used your institution as a model? Has it been able to be transplanted to other places?
Scott: So the answer is yes, one of the most powerful is Billy Warren. Is this news to y'all? He's no longer Billy, but Bill Warren.
Michael: News to me.
Scott: So y'all remember Billy, right?
This is one of my favorite stories. In the eighth grade I come to Westminster and so, I mean, Billy was not a big guy. I mean, Michael, if you remember, in the eighth grade, there's this influx of a lot of really good athletes, which is why we ended up winning the state championship our senior year. But those people who, like yourself, had grown up at Westminster, they were on the football team and whatever, and then all of a sudden, there's this whole new group come in, and it's like, "Ooh, man, where'd they come from?" And so you didn't, you didn't get to play anymore.
Billy was one of them and not a big guy, but I really liked him and I'm just, I'm new. Right. I'm trying to connect to him. And I don't know, I can't remember what made me tell the story, but my great grandfather was friends with Asa Candler. And I'm telling a story about how Asa Candler had come to my great-grandfather and wanted to borrow a hundred dollars. And in exchange for borrowing a hundred dollars, he would make him 50% owner of this new elixir that he had created. Of course, my grandfather didn't give him the money and the elixir was Coke. And I'm telling Billy the story and Billy just listens to me and goes, “You know, that's a really good story, especially when you consider my great grandfather was Asa Candler.”
Michael: Yeah. There were a number of other Candler kids at the school.
Scott: Anyway. So Billy and I are friends as we go through Westminster. I don't realize it at the time, but Billy's a very evangelical Christian. I mean like seriously, evangelical Christian. We move on, we don't connect with each other until I am back in medical school at Emory. Billy said, “I've gone to seminary.” Billy's now three years ahead of me. He is a pediatric resident at the time when I'm doing like my third year pediatric rotation down at Grady. And anyway, long and short of this is Billy goes and starts a clinic. Very similar to what I just described to you down near Georgia Tech. Whereas I got no problem being a professional beggar. I mean, we have to raise $20 million a year to do this work. You can imagine being a Coke heir, it's hard to go out and ask people for money!
Anyway, Billy has built this thing in Atlanta called Good Shepherd. It's not as big as we are, but it's pretty damn impressive. And they also are a federally funded clinic at some level. But y'all absolutely ought to be talking to Billy, Dr. Bill Warren now.
We have an entity called ECHO that stands for Empowering Church Health Opportunities, which is all about replicating our work around the country. So there's about 60 clinics that are modeled after us that are, are truly all over the country. And we are part of the chaos in Washington around healthcare. We actually view it as an opportunity to create a national faith-based healthcare network, which we're trying to build and grow and, and lead. You know, the answer is yes, there are others, but one of my best examples is another one of our classmates, in Atlanta.
Malcolm: I tend to think more on a day to day basis about what to tell kids, what to do for them, what to do with them. What they can do on their own. We know that there are many, many ways that they have tools, and just the mentality, to pull off stuff when they're only 13, 14, 15. Now that was unimaginable for us, when we were that age. We didn't have the same environment or tools. Our parents hadn't raised us the same way. I look at the younger generations now and speculate not at all about whether they're going to take over sooner than we think, but instead what's the tangible world that they will create, which reflects the way they want to see themselves.
Scott: So Malcolm, I'm not saying everybody is like me or sees it like me. And I'm not going to tell you that when I was 15 years old, I thought we would be in this building that we're in right now and we would renovate a Sears distribution center. But I'm telling you when I was 15 years old, I knew I was going to do what I'm doing now. And there are elements of what happened at Westminster that encouraged me to do this. Had I gone to Sandy Springs High School, which is when my parents forced me to go to Westminster, which is where I wanted to go and would have gone, I don't know if it would have been the same.
I'm not arguing that the elitism of Westminster is what got me here. But I do believe that Westminster gave me the ability to think creatively and to dream in a way that convinced me that it was possible.
The most important thing I'm ever gonna do -- we have just formed a partnership with Meharry Medical School in Nashville. There are 168 medical schools in America. You are not going to go create another allopathic medical school. That's not going to happen. Three of those schools are based in historically black colleges. So Meharry, Morehouse in Atlanta, and Howard. I won't go through all the details of this, but Nashville has screwed over Meharry more than you can imagine. Now, from my perspective, it's also interesting that Meharry is a historically United Methodist school.
Again, without going over all the complexity of this, we're going to create a Meharry campus in Memphis. And what this will allow is a kid who grows up dirt poor, goes to public school in urban Memphis -- our other partner here is the University of Memphis -- they will be able to go to college at the University of Memphis, with a guaranteed entrance into Meharry, assuming they do what they need to do. They will then come do the residency that we have created to be family doctors with the goal to come back and be a doctor for the community that they grew up in.
So this is a game changer for a city like Memphis, which is a black town. No question about it. For me as a white guy, I can talk all day long about Black Lives Matter, but what does that actually look like? Well, this is what it looks like. You know, this is how you change institutional racism.
So this issue of what do we talk to kids about? You know what we're now focused on is how do we engage those very kids in that community to let them believe that their hopes can be fulfilled. And this is not just a pipe dream. We are now, with this partnership with Meharry, gonna make it happen. So these kids can not just watch TV and hope to be a doctor. We have now taken away all the obstacles that will allow them to actually be a doctor in a way in the past it just wasn't going to happen.
Michael: There's a program. And I don't know if they still have it, but when I went to Northwestern, they had six year meds. They had kids coming out of high school who knew so much they wanted to be a doctor. They would spend two years on undergraduate studies, and then were guaranteed to go into medical school.
Scott: Right. So we're going to do a three and three program. It's a six year deal. Three years undergraduate at U of M, three years of medical school, three years in our residency. All told nine years, which is a long time.
Malcolm: So I can't help wondering how much of a gap or what kind of a gap there is between how you get things done and realistically, what government thinks it's doing to address these same communities?
Scott: Yeah. So like, this is above my pay grade. If we start talking about government. Again, our whole approach is still a non-governmental approach. You know, what we are focused on is how a community, especially driven by the faith community, can go do what we think God's called us to do.
We fully engage the business community. But truthfully, I don't think I need government. It doesn't come off quite right what I meant there, but I mean, a friend of mine who you may or may not know, he wrote a book a few years ago called God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It. I cannot tell you how true that is from my own experience. Who would ever believe that the work we do, provide healthcare for poor people in name and the faith community. What would that have to do with politics?
I was naive early on to believe that, but I fully get it now. And we had experiences in the Obama administration for, you would think, of course they want to support us. Well, no, unless we can deliver on some political objective they had, they were gonna put a pin in the map to say these poor people are getting taken care of. And then they were going to go have wine and cheese on Beacon Hill. I mean, how the right doesn't get it and the left doesn't care. There's times when I've had more encouragement from the most conservative politicians you can imagine, because at least we're in a position where we're not looking for government funding to do what we do. It's incredibly frustrating when you think the people who you have most in common with, don't care. All of which is to say, we don't deal with the government because it's so unrewarding when we try to do that.
Michael: It makes your planning much more predictable as well.
Scott: It does do that, yeah.
Michael: You don't have to count on what they come up with.
Suzy: Right. So, how are you funded, and how does it work for patients? I'm curious more about that.
Scott: So from the patient's standpoint, we're not a free clinic. I don't believe in free clinics. Poor people aren'tlooking for a handout. They're looking for something that they can afford. Now, this is America. If it's free, it's not worth anything. Now we don't charge hardly anything. I mean, most patients pay $20 to $30 for a regular visit. We have a walk-in clinic for which the criteria is I'm sick today, I don't have health insurance. The cost is $40. It's the same, no matter what your problem is. You got a cold. You got a broken bone. You're at death's doorstep because it's obviously a better deal, the sicker you are, but 40 bucks we'll take care of you. If you don't have the money today, we give you two weeks to come up with it. That gets anybody through a pay period.
We raise $20 million a year, primarily from individuals. We believe that for a healthy charity, at least between 80 and 90% of your fund raising must come from individuals. If you can't do that, you will not be able to sustain your program.
We go for foundations, corporations, I'm not above begging money from anybody, but our model is we do not depend on the government. And corporations are incredibly fickle. It's all about what the business can do. And then foundations are one-time gifts. Going to find money from things like Robert Wood Johnson. I mean, they are, if you didn't know this, they are smarter than any of us (wink). Did you not know that? I mean, and heaven forbid you went to Gates. My brother-in-law is a whole other story, but the people at the Gates foundation, if you don't do it their way, they have no interest in anything creative. If they didn't think about it, then it can't possibly be worth funding.
Michael: They're just looking for people to fulfill their vision?
Scott: Their vision, right. Forget about any grassroots person, because if they were smart enough, they'd be working for the Gates Foundation. So that's really frustrating over time. We occasionally try to pursue a grant like that because it seems totally teed up, but it's rarely worth the effort. And so Suzy, we also don't do hardly any special events. I mean we have a party in the fall and then we're gonna have the world's largest pickleball tournament next spring. Fundraising events like that are rarely worth all the time and effort to do it. I mean, they can be friend-raising events, but you're rarely gonna raise a lot of money over stuff like that. That's been our experience.
Suzy: These other entities that are in this huge old distribution center. You have different relationships with them. I mean, are you just a landlord or are you a partner or what? And especially how does it relate to the high school?
Scott: Yeah, so the high school is a charter school. And the beauty of it for me is that it’s 'not my problem' in terms of teaching the kids. But for everybody in the building, you have to sort of be willing to interface with the high school, with what can you bring to the table.
Crosstown High was, is, an XQ school. I think maybe five years ago, there was this big push to reinvent high school. A bunch of people out in California where y'all were, media people put up a ton of money with the idea of funding 30 schools across the country that would reinvent high school. There was a TV special that on a Friday night, literally every station out there -- I've never seen this before -- were playing the exact same show.
And one of the cool things they did, they would show like a telephone from 1910 and 1930 and 1960. And you'd see how it changed. You would show an airplane during that timeframe. You'd see that change. You would show a classroom, and it looked exactly the same for a hundred years. Anyway, they showed 30 different locations that were designed around re-inventing high school and ours is one of those locations.
So yes, we are just a partner in the building, if you will, but it's funded the same way other charter schools are funded. There are some deep pocketed philanthropists that help support them. What we do is try to give the kids these experiential opportunities around healthcare, where we can, if that makes any sense.
Michael: Maybe your clinic is too far away, but maybe a Bill Warren's clinic is something the high school students could go observe or find out about that world.
Scott: Get behind Bill Warren. Between us, although Bill Presley would love it, Bill Warren's clinic is very, very Christian. I don't know if you can, beyond that. Because thankfully, Westminster's not just the Presbyterian school anymore, but maybe you could, and it would be worth exploring how could the school get behind the work Bill does and people forget the fact that he's a Coke heir. The patients that he takes care of, they are not Coke heirs.
You know it’s just, unfortunately the school is just all focused on the school and I see that. Being the president of a school like that, I mean, I don't even know who it is, but, you know, endlessly worried about raising money for the next thing, but I just wish Westminster could like focus on “here's how we're going to be doing good” besides just educating the kids. Because if the kids could have this experience that is transformative with all of the resources that Westminster could bring to bear. And I would be willing to help fund something like that from what I could offer. I mean, as of right now I can't imagine giving Westminster a dime. They don't need my tuppence coming from Memphis. But if I felt like, “here's what the school is doing out there within Atlanta trying to particularly address issues for the poor” -- I mean, just think of what could really happen there.
I wish there was some way to truly harness the Westminster alumni to go out and make a difference because the Westminster alumni could change the world. If there was just some way to try to get people focused on, you know, here's the way we're going to make a difference. It is totally possible.
Malcolm: I'm in Oakland. Oakland's much larger than people realize, but it's three or four very distinct kinds of towns all within the same border. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes hard, to see how one community is extending itself to another community. I don't mean that's all one way either. But you look for what's different now from five years ago. What's different now from 10 years ago. I think that there are a lot of people in the Bay Area who, like me, even though they've been here for a long time, they came from someplace else and it's not that hard to imagine leaving and being someplace else again. But that doesn't sound like what I remember about the South and it doesn't sound like Memphis at all.
Scott: I can't imagine not being in Memphis. I can't imagine not doing what I do. It's the only city I care about. I mean, I only care about the University of Memphis basketball and football. That's it. We're never going to win a national championship probably, but I'm all in. I'm really committed because that is our path to making a difference.
Malcolm: It feels like you guys have remade Memphis, very distinctly and definitely for the better,
Scott: We've had an impact on Memphis. Before Covid, Memphis was the number one city millennials were moving to because you want to go to San Francisco and make a difference, or you want to go to Atlanta and make a difference? Good luck. Nobody gives a flip. You want to come to Memphis and make a difference then you can actually have an opportunity and people will rally around you. If you care about Memphis, Memphis will care about you. There are very few cities that I think can say that.
NOTE: To find out more about Scott’s organization online, use the link churchhealth.org. Also, Scott was featured in March of this year by Yale News for his outstanding impact responding to the COVID-19 crisis, as an orchestrator and direct contributor of relief for the Memphis community. See more about his work at the article here.
Malcolm Ryder (West ‘72) Contributor
Suzy Goldberg (West '72) Contributor
Michael Slade (West '73) Contributor