For Dr. Michele Pickett, medicine is a calling rooted in faith.
Pickett always loved science and helping people, and originally thought she'd be a missionary doctor. But after being diagnosed with cancer at 28, Pickett — now a three-time cancer survivor — says she felt moved to "demonstrate the love of Christ" to others.
"That is why I do what I do," Pickett says. "When I look at Jesus in the Gospels, he is full of compassion. We see him walking, touching and healing people — hurting and broken people. I personally have experienced his love and healing and want others to experience that, too."
In 2006, Pickett and registered nurse Jill Fikkert co-founded what would become LifeSpring Community Health. LifeSpring's mission is to "demonstrate the love of Christ by providing exemplary pediatric care that embraces the whole child," Pickett says, adding that "our goal really is to create a practice where all children are welcome regardless of your ability to pay or your insurance status."
Although LifeSpring focuses on pediatrics, she says providing the best care for children also involves addressing the health of their parents, their families, their communities, their schools and the places they live.
"The pediatric practice happens to be our main service that we provide, but we use that to kind of create this multidisciplinary approach where we have community health workers on staff who address social determinants of health and help parents navigate resources, address barriers," she says.
The coronavirus pandemic hit Chattanooga's vulnerable communities particularly hard, and LifeSpring has played a critical role in the local COVID-19 response, providing free testing to anyone and COVID-19 vaccines. LifeSpring is one of the few local providers still offering free testing.
"We kind of go where the needs and the opportunities are," Pickett says.
Pediatricians are particularly adept at vaccinations compared to some other medical specialties given their critical role in childhood immunizations, she says.
"We figured, this is a vaccine and we're equipped. We know this rope, and so we signed up," she says.
Dr. Michele Pickett
* Role: Pediatrician, executive director and co-founder at LifeSpring Community Health
* Career: After completing medical school at Tufts University in Boston, Pickett went on to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York for her pediatric residency and a fellowship in community and preventive medicine. She moved to Chattanooga in 1994 and worked for Erlanger Health System’s ambulatory and adolescent medicine program. In 2006, Pickett started the children’s clinic at St. Andrews Center serving immigrant kids who were uninsured, which evolved into LifeSpring in 2010.
* Personal: Dr. Pickett was born in the Bahamas and came to New York in 10th grade, finishing high school in New York City public schools. She and her husband, a pastor, have two daughters, 21 and 24.
The clinic offers all three COVID-19 vaccines, although only one of those is currently authorized for use in children. Pickett says that's because the clinic wants to break down as many barriers as possible to vaccination for adults, which helps protect children.
Prior to the pandemic, a major focus of LifeSpring was well-child checks, including psycho-social evaluations, immunizations and care coordination by community health workers.
LifeSpring's patient mix is 25% uninsured, 11% private insurance and 64% TennCare, the state's Medicaid program for low-income families, children and people with disabilities.
Because TennCare reimbursements do not cover the cost of care, LifeSpring's business model relies heavily on philanthropy, with donations often coming from foundations, businesses, individuals or churches.
CHAMPIONS OF HEALTH CARE 2021