Leaders of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) College of Medicine and Shelby County government gathered Thursday to mark the opening of ShelbyCares on 3rd, a community health and wellness facility aimed at enhancing access to free health coaching, preventive health screenings, and nutritional support classes for underserved populations in the community.
G. Nicholas Verne, MD, interim executive dean of the UTHSC College of Medicine, highlighted the importance of the services provided by ShelbyCares. “When we consider the diseases that often go unrecognized in the United States, particularly in Shelby County, such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension, we are dealing with silent killers,” he said. “Many of our patients are unaware that they are living with these conditions. This initiative plays a crucial role in early detection and intervention, which is vital for our patients. We are sincerely grateful for this phenomenal opportunity to provide excellent care and significantly improve the health of our patients. Prevention is key, and we firmly believe that it is better to prevent these diseases, rather than trying to cure them.”
ShelbyCares on 3rd is the second community health and wellness facility administered by UTHSC and the first to include direct referrals. ShelbyCares on 3rd is revolutionizing access to vital primary and preventive care within our community, said Jim Bailey, MD, executive director of the Tennessee Population Health Consortium at UTHSC, professor of Preventive Medicine, and ShelbyCares project lead. “In Memphis, the demand for guidance in healthy eating, diabetes prevention, and self-care is paramount. Our dedicated health coaches are harnessing the power of food as medicine to empower individuals to make healthier choices, shed excess weight, and experience improved well-being. By addressing these pressing concerns, we aim to combat the alarming rates of premature heart disease that afflict our community.”
Since opening its doors in May, ShelbyCares health coaches have reached over 3,500 individuals and had 1,282 visits from over 231 Shelby County residents at high risk for heart disease. Health coaches are working with primary care providers to expand access to diabetes self-management education, diabetes prevention program services, and support for healthy eating, weight loss, and control of high blood pressure.
In addition, over two dozen residents of Shelby County have volunteered to become Neighborhood Health Ambassadors. They play a crucial role in promoting healthy habits in the community, acting as advocates for improved health. This grassroots approach has proven effective in fostering positive change and empowering individuals to take control of their well-being. Collaborating with primary care providers, the health coaches have expanded access to essential services, including diabetes self-management education, diabetes prevention programs, and assistance with healthy eating, weight loss, and high blood pressure control.
Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris emphasized the community’s collective participation. “The love of this community is still here,” he said. “Residents here have been enduring for a very long time and have always said they want to see a return to the services or return of young families and the return on investment. And so, this represents our efforts to ensure that more folks in Shelby County have preventative health care, but it’s also a return of activity to this block.”
During Thursday’s celebration, visitors had the opportunity to learn more about the mission of ShelbyCares and explore ShelbyCares on 3rd through guided tours. Complimentary health services were also offered to attendees, with ShotRX providing free flu and COVID shots. The event not only highlighted the achievements of the past year, but also served as a platform for raising awareness about the ongoing work of ShelbyCares.
Looking ahead, ShelbyCares is poised to expand its mission in its second year. One of the key initiatives involves encouraging residents to complete the ShelbyCares Neighborhood Health Ambassador training, aiming for at least one ambassador in every corner of the community. Additionally, ShelbyCares has partnered with locally-owned gyms and fitness centers to offer beginner-friendly workout classes throughout the week at no cost to participants. These Neighborhood Health Clubs will begin welcoming residents on November 15.
The need for accessible health care in Shelby County is pressing, with over half of adults being overweight or obese, heart disease being the leading cause of death, and less than 30% of adults having seen a primary care physician within the last year. ShelbyCares aims to address these challenges by providing a judgment-free and hassle-free path for residents to access essential health and wellness resources.
UTHSC Chancellor Peter Buckley, MD, expressed his enthusiasm for the project, stating, “Our work thrives on partnership. We are fortunate to have exceptional leaders and strong partnerships with various organizations. Together, we can accomplish remarkable feats in improving health care. Our ultimate mission is to enhance the health of Tennessee’s residents and foster flourishing communities. This remains at the forefront of our vision – ensuring the well-being of Tennesseans and creating a healthier future for all.”