PHOTO: Mercy Community Healthcare CEO Cindy Siler visits with David Winningham, the nonprofit’s former CEO, during the 20th anniversary celebration on Tuesday, April 16. / Photo submitted
By JOHN McBRYDE
Mercy Community Healthcare staff, board members and community partners came together earlier this week to celebrate the beginning of the nonprofit’s 20th anniversary with a reception at its main health center in Williamson Square.
The last two decades have come from what one of its founding members called a “humble beginning.”
“We had no idea it was going to evolve into what it is today,” said Franklin businessman Ed Underwood, who was one of the four founding board members of Mercy. “I was thinking about how it was really a humble beginning. I don’t think anybody could have predicted what it has grown into now.”
It was on April 16, 1999, that articles of incorporation were signed for what was then Mercy Children’s Clinic. Underwood joined several others from the community for the commemoration on Tuesday, 20 years to the day that it first operated.
“It’s incredible to step back and realize how far God has led the ministry of Mercy,” CEO Cindy Siler said. “In 1999, a group of local pastors and business leaders founded Mercy Children’s Clinic because they recognized a serious need to create a resource for children in Williamson County who did not have insurance.
“Twenty years later, we’ve grown to serve over 10,000 patients per year. We now offer a health care home for the entire family, which includes primary care, mental and behavioral health services, and care coordination.”
At the outset, however, Underwood and the other founding members — Ralph Drury, Tom Miller and Julian Bibb — struggled to keep the place afloat financially.
Mercy Community Healthcare got its beginning when Underwood and Drury decided to bid on a vacant building on Ninth Avenue in downtown Franklin. As it appeared their bid would be highest at the auction, they were approached by Miller, Pastor Scott Roley from Christ Community Church and Dr. Tim Henschel from Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital about possibly using the building as a clinic for the area’s children who were underprivileged or without health insurance.
They agreed, and set out to have the building totally remodeled and ready to use as a clinic. Problem was, however, the funding wasn’t there at first to keep the place open.
“We didn’t have any money to speak of,” Underwood said. “We borrowed some money and all signed on a note. We’d have our board meetings, and we didn’t know if we were going to have enough money to pay our bills the next week. It was touch and go for a while.”
But then came a true gift. A newcomer to Franklin who was originally from Houston had visited the clinic with his wife a couple of times, and realized how badly it needed money.
“One day we were in a board meeting, and somebody went out and got the mail,” Underwood explained. “And lo and behold, in one of the envelopes there was a check for $100,000. We were in our meeting and we were literally talking about finances and how we were going to make it.
“That really got the clinic going, got us on solid ground.”
Mercy added mental health and social services to its integrated care program in 2006, and expanded to a new facility in 2009. It was awarded a grant from the United States Department of Health and Human Services designating it as a Federally Qualified Health Center in June 2012.
As a result of this, Mercy began seeing adult patients, and Mercy Children’s Clinic transitioned to Mercy Community Healthcare.
The nonprofit will continue to celebrate with events throughout the year, including the annual Labor Day Franklin Classic run in downtown Franklin and the 20th Anniversary Celebration Dinner on Nov. 8.