As the oldest of five siblings in a relatively poor family in Idaho, Rae Bond learned early about the challenges of health care and its costs when her father had a heart attack when Bond was 11 years old.
"Having to go to the doctor for our family was a really, really big deal even though my father had a lot of health issues," she says.
From those humble roots, Bond landed a job as a newspaper columnist and editor at just 19 years old and went to Washington, D.C., in her 20s to work on Capitol Hill and later at both the National Association of Counties (NACO) and the National Governors Association (NGA). As public affairs director at the NGA for a decade, Bond worked closely with governors from across the country, and across the partisan divide, on a host of public policy issues, including Democrats Bill Clinton and Howard Dean and Republicans John Sununu and John Ashcroft, among others.
Bond left the national political stage 26 years ago when her husband Bill was called to pastor Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga.
"We really felt that God was calling us, not just to a church but to the community of Chattanooga," Bond recalls.
In March, as the global coronavirus pandemic emerged in the community, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger named Bond to lead the COVID-19 Joint Task Force, a 20-member panel of health care experts from Chattanooga's major hospitals and public health organizations to help coordinate the city and county response.
"Today, our community is faced with an unprecedented and unanticipated challenge with COVID-19, but once again Chattanooga's leaders are coming together to develop best strategies to lead us forward though a pandemic," Bond says.
The leadership role is just the latest for Bond, who has long applied her skills at bringing diverse people and interests together to tackle some of Chattanooga's biggest social and health problems. In her volunteer and professional roles, Bond has helped create pioneering programs to strengthen families, expand access to health care, attract more young people into health care fields, and help physicians avoid job burnout.
"She is a living legend whose name is synonymous with equal, quality health care for all, and to those who provide it," says Dr. James Haynes, chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the UT College of Medicine in Chattanooga and chairman of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.
Bond has worked at the Medical Society and its related organizations for nearly 20 of the past 26 years and helped the local physicians group launch one of its most significant programs since the society was organized in 1883.
* Job: Chief Executive Officer of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society, the Medical Foundation of Chattanooga, and Project Access.
* Career: From 1997-2001, she was the founding president of First Things First in Chattanooga; from 2001-2002 she served as executive director of the Tennessee Municipal League. Before moving to Chattanooga, she was director of public affairs for the National Governors Association in Washington, D.C., for 10 years; editor of a national weekly newspaper published by the National Association of Counties; a congressional press secretary; and an award-winning newspaper columnist, writer and editor in her native Idaho.
* Education: Graduate of Towson State University
* Personal: She and her husband, Bill, a chaplain at Hospice, have two grown children “and one perfect grandchild.”
* Secret to your success: “People often want to do something, but they don’t know the path from vision to reality. I think my background for 12 years working in fiercely bipartisan organizations at NACO and NGA has helped me to bring people together and find common ground.”
Bond helped bring together the three major hospital systems in Chattanooga along with 15 health care centers to support a charity care network to provide health care to those who could not otherwise afford it. Project Access engages over 1,000 volunteer physicians who have delivered more than $200 million worth of health care to more than 21,000 low-income people since the program began in April 2004. Aided by a $1.8 million grant Bond helped secure from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, plus private fundraising efforts, Chattanooga launched the first Project Access program in Tennessee. Bond has served as a technical consultant to help other communities launch similar efforts, including Knoxville and Upper East Tennessee.
"If you are somebody with limited means who has been marginalized and haven't had access to care, and you are really sick and you are really scared, it can be overwhelming," Bond said.
Two years ago, the Medical Society also created a physician well-being program known as Lifebridge to help deal with problems of burnout and depression for physicians. Bond has also led the Hamilton County Regional Health Council for more than five years and served on the Health Disparities Task Force and worked with the TN Charitable Care Network to expand funding for charity care. As chair of the Infant Mortality Reduction Committee, Bond has helped cut local infant mortality by 13%. She also was a founder of the Chattanooga Coalition Against Tobacco in 1996, which today is Tobacco-Free Chattanooga.