From the CEO's Desk
Kathy Wood-Dobbins, CEO
Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Section: Spotlight Articles, May 2018

As I approach the end of a 27-year tenure as CEO of the Tennessee Primary Care Association, my reflections keep circling around to stories about the people and events of the past three decades. Mitch Albom, the author of Tuesdays with Morrie, writes about the impact of stories in our lives:  “There's a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking.” I would add that sometimes the stories are inspiring, sometimes they are hilarious, and other times the listener swears you are making this stuff up.

The beginning of the Community Health Center movement is in itself a great story. A young physician named Jack Geiger had a transformative experience during a five-month stint in South Africa that crystallized for him the interrelationship between poverty, nutrition, education, and health, and showed him a new community-based model of care.  A young school teacher named Lyndon Johnson is shaped by the hunger he sees in the eyes of his students in a rural Texas schoolhouse, later compelling him to wage war on poverty. The stories of these individuals and many others come together during an opportune moment in history, giving birth to Community Health Centers. This story has generated thousands more, including the unique stories of 30 Community Health Centers in Tennessee.  Over the years, I have witnessed the incredible growth of health centers and worked alongside many of the characters that inhabit their stories.

I have work with 23 board presidents. Each of them brought their unique strengths, personalities, and talents to their leadership role and mentored me along the way.  Many thanks to Dennis Freeman, Yvonne Madlock, Larry Stanifer, Mary Bufwack, Al Head, Bill Moats , Mark Watt, Barbara Heady, Frances Shelley, Cindy Siler, Janie McGinley, Burt Waller, Karen Guinn, Jeff McKissack, Bill Hicks, James Lovett, Teresa Dabney, Lisa Terry, Willeen Hastings, and Phillip Tatum. I also pay tribute to three TPCA board presidents who have passed away - John Galloway, Jan Laxton, and Michelle Marrs. They were each devoted to their communities, leaving strong legacies and, yes, great stories. 

I am thankful for the wonderful staff who share their talents and labor on behalf of the Community Health Centers we serve. These great folks have been my day-to-day companions as we have solved problems together, generated new ideas, and faced the challenges of the times.  I will miss the camaraderie and the friendships.

I am thankful for my colleagues who have connected me to the bigger picture of community health across the country.  I have enjoyed working closely with colleagues at HRSA and NACHC, as well as the leaders of other state primary care associations.  One colleague aptly and succinctly described the benefits of this national network, exclaiming “I have a friend in every state!”

While I bow out at the end of this chapter, I look with confidence and hope toward what comes next for TPCA and also for me.  I wish you well and am glad we’ve had these years together.  Godspeed!

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