Can the state and nonprofits work better together?

Hank Hayes • Mar 11, 2018 at 12:10 PM

KINGSPORT — Tennessee Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee believes state government could do a better job pulling together community resources.

He recently toured one of those resources, Providence Medical Clinic of Kingsport, which offers free acute and primary medical care to Sullivan County residents.

“How would you describe your clients?” Lee asked Michelle Campbell, the clinic’s director.

“The ones we see are very sick individuals,” she answered. “ … We see people 150-160 percent below the poverty level. … The average monthly income is about $1,273. … We serve the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick. … Our funding sources are the area churches. … Here under one roof you have every denomination … united in Jesus.”

Lee, a Williamson County businessman, is competing against U.S. Rep. Diane Black, Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd and Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell in the August GOP Primary.

Lee’s campaign has started “Faith in Tennessee,” an effort to engage faith-based organizations and nonprofits with a goal to help solve the state’s problems.

“As a Christian and a conservative, I don’t think faith means starting another government program,” Lee said. “I’m a guy who believes our community organizations, our faith-based institutions, our faith-based nonprofits are an underutilized natural resource for the state. … The voice of the faithful has been made to feel increasingly unwelcome in the public square. … The goal is to collaborate between organizations and pull together community resources. I think the state could do that.”

At Providence Medical Clinic, Lee saw exam rooms, volunteers at work and the operation’s small pharmacy operation tucked away in the back of a downtown building off Clay Street.

“Our organization is volunteer-driven, and we provide spiritual support,” Providence board member and former Kingsport Mayor Jeanette Blazier told Lee. “ … The entire faith community of Kingsport supports Providence. … In this building we have medical services, we have Celebrate Recovery for addiction issues and a counseling center.”

Providence is on the front lines of helping those not taking part in TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program serving more than one million low-income Tennesseans.

When asked what should happen with TennCare moving forward, Lee responded: “I think we need fundamental reform, both in the private side of health care and TennCare. … The overall objective of reform is to lower the cost of health care and, particularly, TennCare. We do that by introducing some level of patient accountability. When we have a system when a TennCare patient has a choice of going to an emergency room or a primary care physician and there’s no incentive for them to choose one over the other, then we will never control cost. … When we at TennCare don’t reward a healthy lifestyle over an unhealthy lifestyle, then we can’t address cost control.”

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