A Conversation with G. Scott Morris, MD, MDiv


 
Scott Morris

Reflections on 30+ years in Memphis, senior health, life at Crosstown

More than three decades ago, a fresh-faced, idealistic family physician named Scott Morris - who also happened to be an ordained United Methodist minister - arrived in Memphis with ambitious dreams to open a faith-based healthcare practice for the underemployed and uninsured.

Morris's journey since then has been well documented, and the model he launched has changed the health and healthcare options for generations of Memphians.

"I moved here from Atlanta because, at that time, Memphis was the poorest major city in America and I wanted to help address the long-term effects that poverty was having on the health of the people here," Morris said. "We are driven by a mission of overall health, which does not simply mean the absence of disease."

Today, Morris's fresh face, idealism and dreams remain intact, but the fledgling practice born in 1987 in a boarding-house-turned-doctor's-office in Midtown Memphis has aged. And aged well.

Located now in the expansive Crosstown Concourse building that formerly served as a Sears Roebuck distribution center, Church Health plays an integral part in the vertical Midtown Memphis community that includes nearly four dozen businesses and more than 250 apartments.

Occupying dual roles at Church Health, the energetic 67-year-old Morris contributes daily to patient success stories and works tirelessly to ensure that the faith-based not-for-profit itself remains healthy.

That means Morris serves not only as a doctor treating patients, but also as a CEO raising money to help fund Church Health's $20 million annual budget. The organization provides affordable health services for the uninsured and underemployed and treats thousands of patients each year.

Morris has seen many positive developments over the course of his decades in medicine and ministry and believes longstanding relationships with patients help promote overall health. Now, as a senior treating many senior patients, Morris sees specific challenges - and opportunities - in working with older adults.

"I have some patients who are in their 80's that I've been seeing since I came here," Morris said. "When I walk into the examining room, they don't have to give me their histories because I already know them. These relationships are built on sharing and trust and that makes it easier to treat the whole person, not just a set of symptoms."

This holistic view of health encompasses seven areas that Church Health emphasizes need to remain balanced. If one or more facets become neglected or underrepresented, total health suffers.

"We focus on medical care, movement, nutrition, emotions, family/friends/community, work and faith, Morris explained. "This is important for patients at all stages of life and becomes increasingly important as we age. It can be difficult to maintain the balance that optimizes health."

One issue in senior care is an overreliance on medication. While drugs are effective therapies for many conditions, sometimes less is more.

"There are way too many drugs given to older people and too many older patients go to multiple doctors who don't always interact with each other," Morris said. "I've seen patients on all kinds of medications that they keep taking because doctors told them to, but they don't always know how one drug affects another."

Another vital issue, particularly seniors and lower income patients, is nutrition. Church Health is fully engaged in culinary medicine that promotes healthy eating and food preparation in an effort to help patients create lifechanging and many times lifesaving habits.

"One of the challenges that we have in Memphis is that our churches have blessed us into gluttony within our worshipping community," Morris said. "Clergy members are often heavier that their communities and the foods served at many church functions don't promote healthy eating or nutrition. That's a difficult cycle to break, but we have to keep trying to change attitudes."

As Memphis and the world approach two years of living with COVID-19, Morris said it is more important than ever to pay attention to signs of mental and emotional stress. Rates of anxiety and depression have skyrocketed since early 2020 and this can be particularly difficult for seniors who have become isolated and shut off from their communities.

"Many churches that provided a place of worship and fellowship for so many seniors and others still don't have regular services or programs," Morris said. "I tell pastors and leaders in congregations not to assume that seniors and other members are okay. Reach out to them. Connect. People need human touch and that's especially true for seniors. This has been terribly difficult to maintain during the pandemic, but we have to find ways to make it happen."

Church Health continues to explore ways to foster those connections and promote balanced, healthy living. And Morris is dedicated to doing his part to ensure that the organization remains a thriving resource for the community.

"While providing quality, affordable healthcare to the uninsured remains our primary mission, I think the nature of Church Health has changed dramatically," Morris explained. "We've gone from one small building at Peabody and Belvedere to 150,000-square-feet at Crosstown. When I look in the mirror sometimes, I'm surprised by what I see on the outside because inside I still feel like that 33-year-old who landed here all those years ago. But one thing that hasn't changed is the joy I find in all of this. It's great to see what happens with God's imagination."

 
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