Delivering Comprehensive Care for More than Four Decades
Necessity is the motherhood of invention, and what Matthew Walker, Sr., MD, needed was a place for his Meharry Medical College students to train. At the same time, the community needed a place where individuals, regardless of economic status, could receive high-quality care.
To meet those needs, a family-oriented ambulatory healthcare facility opened in 1968 and was named after the renowned surgeon and Meharry professor in tribute to his tireless work within the community and dedication to training young physicians. Originally an extension of Meharry Medical Center and Hubbard Hospital, by the late 1970s, the Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center (MWCHC) became a separate, independent 501(c)(3) organization, although a close relationship with Meharry still exists today.
The state’s first federally qualified health center, Matthew Walker takes a truly comprehensive approach to primary care offering a wide range of pediatric and adult services. In addition to family and internal medicine and general dentistry, Matthew Walker’s specialty and ancillary services include ophthalmology, obstetrics and gynecology, gerontology, nutrition, behavioral health services, radiology, diagnostic lab testing and screening, an onsite pharmacy, and urgent care clinic.
“Where else can you get your medical services, dental services and pharmacy services under one roof?” asked Jeff McKissack, Matthew Walker CEO.
Actually, he continued, those comprehensive services are now supplied under several roofs as the center has expanded over the years and now employs more than 125 professionals serving about 31,000 patients annually at multiple locations. “We now have offices in Clarksville, Murfreesboro and Smyrna,” McKissack noted, adding the main location remains at 1035 14th Avenue North. Additionally, Matthew Walker meets the community’s needs through the freestanding C.E. McGruder Family Resource Center. To ensure the health of students, MWCHC has an onsite presence at Pearl Cohn High School and Fisk University and also runs a mobile unit that travels to Nashville schools.
“We work in partnership with the Health Department and Metro Schools to provide EPSTD (Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment) testing,” said McKissack. Although the center has provided such services for well more than a decade, the program suffered a major setback when the aging mobile health unit was lost in the May 2010 Nashville flood. Happily, grants from Health & Human Services, the Memorial Foundation, and the Cal Turner Family Foundation were instrumental in making the necessary funds available to Matthew Walker to replace the rolling clinic.
Although additional expansion plans are not on the immediate horizon, McKissack said, “We’re always addressing what the healthcare needs of the community are.”
One need that has remained constant is to find the best way to create a medical home for patients. McKissack said MWCHC takes a “whole person approach.” Utilizing robust technology and team management, providers work together to address acute needs, implement preventive measures, and assess barriers to optimal health. With many of the pieces already in place, he added Matthew Walker is working to become an accredited Patient-Centered Medical Home through the National Committee for Quality Assurance program.
For someone with a chronic condition like diabetes or hypertension, McKissack said, the center’s team approach might include working with a physician to get the condition under control, meeting with an educator to learn about secondary prevention, talking to a nutritionist to realign meal planning for improved outcomes and possibly speaking with a behavioral health provider to discuss barriers to reaching health goals.
“When you are engaged,” he said of patients, “you are more likely to be compliant with what you have to do.”
In late February, MWCHC received a $165,000 grant award from the AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation program, Connections for Cardiovascular HealthSM, to support the center’s “Dial Down Diabetes” outreach program. The initiative, which targets the African-American and Latino adult population with diabetes, undiagnosed diabetes or pre-diabetes, aims to create a comprehensive, community-based response to help “dial down” the impact of diabetes in both rural and urban areas.
“Supporting good health extends beyond an individual’s visit to a doctor,” noted McKissack.
Participants in the program will have an assigned case manager. The program features healthy cooking classes, “scholarships” to local recreational center fitness classes, and community-based fun walks. Like many of Matthew Walker’s successful initiatives, community partnerships are a key component. The Nashville Metropolitan Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Austin Peay State University School of Nursing, and Metro Parks are partners in the diabetes management program.
Although the center’s namesake died in 1978, Walker lived long enough to see his vision for a true community-based health center come to fruition. In its 44 years of operation, Matthew Walker hasn’t wavered from its commitment to provide high quality, low cost healthcare services to those who need it.
Nor has the center forgotten its educational roots. Today, McKissack noted, “We get students from everywhere. We have a whole host of medical training opportunities.” He said pharmacy students from Belmont and Lipscomb work with the center, as do medical students from Meharry and Vanderbilt, nursing students from the city’s multiple programs and allied health students from throughout Middle Tennessee.
MWCHC is accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, American Dental Association and American College of Radiology. Matthew Walker is also a certified FDA Mammography Facility and CLIA laboratory.