It’s a Nashville building you’ve probably passed dozens of times. It’s a place where people come from more than 80 homelands and speak more than 70 languages. There are some 600 volunteers on this organization’s team. It’s a bustling and vibrant place. We hear bouts of laughter, toddlers crying; we see ear-to-ear smiles and children wrapped in hugs. This place is called Siloam Health, and it’s located in Nashville’s Melrose neighborhood. Siloam isn’t like any other hospital or clinic, though. It only serves Nashville’s uninsured, underserved and culturally marginalized. Since their founding in 1991, Siloam has leveraged the time, talents and treasures of a whole “village” of Tennesseans to provide more than just health care for those who need it most.
Siloam doesn’t advertise, but their powerful work travels by word of mouth into the diverse populations of Hispanics, Egyptians, Iraqis and people of dozens of other nationalities in Nashville. People know Siloam as a safe haven — as, quite literally, a lifesaver. Not only can families come to Siloam for check-ups, immunizations and other routine care, but Siloam also has mental health professionals, social workers and volunteer community health workers who help people assimilate into a new life — one that is often scary, confusing and intimidating. They teach them everything from how to shop for fresh produce at the grocery stores to how a street crosswalk works and how to properly dress for a job.
The sheer number of deserving people Siloam touches and the accolades on their staff’s resumes are beyond impressive. But a step inside this center shows an x-factor that can’t be administered in a patient room or listed on a report: it’s an indescribable feeling of joy, hope and resilience. We spoke to CEO and Director of Siloam Health Morgan Wills for a firsthand look at this impactful microcosm that is the true Nashville.
Siloam Health has a storied history in Nashville that many might not know about. Can you condense it down to a sentence or two for us?
Siloam Health is a faith-based nonprofit, providing whole-person healthcare for Nashville’s culturally marginalized. Our primary focus is primary and specialty care for the underserved, but we also offer community health promotion among marginalized immigrants and refugees, as well as student education for the next generation of healthcare providers.
How is Siloam Health different from a regular hospital? Can anyone come here?
Siloam has a unique combination of patients, priorities and purpose. The first and most striking thing to most people is the diversity of patients we serve. Last year alone, they came from 80 countries and spoke more than 70 languages. Second, our main priority is distinct from most hospitals and clinics: to care for uninsured and medically vulnerable Nashvillians. In other words, we’re there for those with nowhere else to go. And finally, both our patients and our priorities reflect our underlying purpose: to share the love and compassion of Christ. It’s not just a statement on the wall, but the driving motivation for all that we do.
Why are places like Siloam so important in cities? In Nashville in general?
There are a lot of people working hard behind the scenes to make our “It City” go: factory and construction workers, landscapers, cooks, cleaners, waitstaff, Uber drivers and more. Many of them are foreign-born and seeking the American dream. But without health insurance, one major illness can put all of that at risk — for them, their families and the city that depends on them. Siloam is a lifeline for these families. When they flourish, Nashville flourishes.
Tell us about the staff and the people who make this all happen.
Siloam has a staff of 43, roughly a third of whom are former immigrants or refugees themselves. We have a clinical provider staff of six, in addition to myself. Roughly 400 volunteers serve alongside us onsite, including physician specialists, nurses, support staff and interpreters. About 200 more people volunteer with us out in the community. It really does take a village!
Being a faith-based organization in healthcare — has this helped you? Been a barrier?
Great question. Overall, it’s been a huge plus. For almost three decades at Siloam, Christ’s love has compelled us to serve, shaped our culture and core values, and nourished our calling when things get tough (as they inevitably do!). That being said, in our increasingly secular society, being faith-based can be confusing to some. That’s why we always stress our core value of hospitality. So that patients, volunteers and trainees — of all faiths or none — feel genuinely welcome at Siloam. In fact, some of the most powerful — and fun — relationships I’ve experienced at Siloam have emerged by rolling up our sleeves together and engaging in a common mission, despite our differences.
How does federal policy put Nashville’s immigrant and refugee population at a disadvantage when it comes to healthcare?
Two words: confusion and fear. Confusion, because our country’s immigration and healthcare policies are outdated, inconsistent and incoherent. I have two graduate degrees and frankly, have a hard time understanding either myself. We’ve desperately needed comprehensive, sensible reform in both areas, but the politics around them are just too toxic. The other challenge is fear — fear of accessing routine services or sometimes just leaving the house. Even documented immigrants can be wary of exercising their rights or doing anything that might mark them as potentially too dependent on the state. I once had a Southeast Asian patient who came to see me for a random gunshot wound. The incident occurred on a Saturday, but rather than risk being misunderstood or bankrupted by going to the E.R., he waited until Monday morning to be seen at Siloam. Can you imagine?!
What does the “whole-person” approach to medicine mean? How is this particularly impactful when treating the uninsured and underserved?
Most of our new patients are so used to being treated as a medical diagnosis, an income bracket or a time slot on the schedule. They are stunned to be treated at Siloam as whole persons, made in the image of God and worthy of time and respect. Using an interdisciplinary approach and a multicultural team, we seek to address not just the physical health of those we serve, but their social, emotional and spiritual health as well. We call this approach whole-person care. Sometimes that means a different team member (a social worker, behavioral health consultant or pastor) will meet with a patient, but even if that’s not the case, it always means being fully present to the patient as a whole person.
How did you end up in this role? Have you always been in healthcare?
I am a former history major whose life got “ruined” by volunteering after college at a medical mission hospital in West Africa. It set me on a journey towards training at Vanderbilt and a career in medicine. Coming out of residency training at Vanderbilt, I was recruited to help transition Siloam from a volunteer-driven model to a staff-driven, volunteer-supported model. I’ve enjoyed serving at Siloam and helping to “ruin” others for healthcare careers ever since!
What’s the biggest triumph you’ve celebrated in this role? The biggest hurdle you’ve overcome?
My biggest triumph thus far has been not screwing it up! My predecessor, Nancy West, really laid the groundwork of excellence in operations, governance, fundraising and prayer that enabled me to prosper in my clinical work at Siloam. When I took over her role as President and CEO at her retirement six years ago, I had a big case of “imposter syndrome.” I’m so thankful to our team at Siloam, the board and staff, who have complemented my weaknesses in the years since, enabling us not only to survive the transition but to grow, thrive and continue to adapt our mission to the needs of our city.
What’s exciting for Siloam coming up this year or next? Goals or milestones?
Funny you should ask! We are in the early phases of a bold and exciting new strategic plan to expand our services and increase access for both current and new patients. It will involve innovative, community-based satellite clinic sites in and around Southeast Nashville, where the majority of our patients live.
How can we get involved?
That’s simple: friends and funds. On the first front, our patients are often misunderstood and unknown by more well-to-do Nashvillians. One of the greatest roles that Siloam plays is as a catalyst for relationships. We currently need small volunteer groups to come alongside newly arrived refugee families in our Nashville Neighbors program. You don’t need any healthcare expertise — just time, a teachable spirit and a willingness to serve and be a friend. In addition to volunteers, we need contributions — and advocates who can help us raise them. As a charitably funded nonprofit, our primary fundraiser is a breakfast and lunch event on Friday, November 8. It’s a powerful and concise opportunity to hear about Siloam’s impact and learn how to invest in it. It’s free to attend, and we would love for any StyleBlueprint readers to join us as an individual guest or even as a table host.
A huge thank you to Morgan Wills and the team at Siloam Health for taking the time to show us this incredible organization, and to Leila Grossman for the photos. All photos are by Leila Grossman, unless otherwise credited.
For the best of the South — straight to your inbox! — subscribe to our newsletter HERE!