Trying to Get to Healing in Tennessee’s Broken Healthcare System

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After this there was a Jewish festival, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate in the north city wall is a pool with the Aramaic name Bethsaida. It had five covered porches, and a crowd of people who were sick, blind, lame, and paralyzed sat there. A certain man was there who had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, knowing that he had already been there a long time, he asked him, Do you want to get well?” The sick man answered him, Sir, I don’t have anyone who can put me in the water when it is stirred up. When I’m trying to get to it, someone else has gotten in ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

                  — John 5:1–9

In May 2016, the state of Tennessee saw the seventh preventable hospital closure since the proposal of Governor Haslam’s now defunct Insure Tennessee plan. McNairy Regional in Selmer, TN, has closed due to financial trouble. An article on the closing in The Jackson Sun attributes this closure, in part, to the fact that “Tennessee has not covered more individuals with Medicaid, leaving many of the state’s most vulnerable citizens without access to health insurance, and leaving no means to address the unsustainable burden of uncompensated care.” The hospital’s closing has happened under the radar of most Tennesseans, but is one of the many mounting signals that our community’s structures are failing to provide care.

Right now, the Tennessee healthcare situation is like the crowded pool of Bethsaida. We have only a few porches and one pool for a huge crowd of people in need of healing. The structure of our healthcare system leaves far too many without healing, and too often the ones passed by are the most vulnerable. Like the man waiting on his mat, unable to get to the waters, the system excludes members of society who don’t have the individual capacity or community resources to access the care available. Through the work of Tennessee Coalition to Close the Coverage Gap, we have heard the stories from those in need and know that they want to get well. But for people of faith, the story does not end with a failing system that thwarts the needs and hopes of the sick. As we live and follow in the legacy of Jesus Christ in this gospel narrative, we are called to immediate and direct action. Jesus does not walk away, thankful for his own health. He does not settle for a conscience soothed by merely noticing the need. No, he steps in and provides care, empowered by the Spirit to work against the limitations of a broken system.

It is time for Tennesseans of faith and good will to follow this example and respond with creative love and justice to our failing healthcare system. Gratitude for our own well-being or celebrating those whose needs are met only continues to exclude and marginalize those who are in desperate need of healthcare coverage and access to good facilities in their region. Next week, Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell’s task force will report their findings and alternative plan, and we can express our concern and hold them accountable for the care of our communities. Take a moment to call or email House Speaker Beth Harwell and Task Force Chairman Cameron Sexton. Remind them that we are called to care for all and confront the structures and assumptions that prevent equal access to health and healing.

You can listen to stories from our neighbors at

Contact Speaker Harwell at (615) 741-0709 or Contact Representative Sexton at (615) 741-2343 or To find your state representative, visit


**JESUS MAFA. Healing of the ten lepers, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved August 13, 2016].