The Free Medical Clinic of America in South Knoxville has appointed a new Executive Director as it continues to drive growth in services and reach. Erica Lyon has more than twenty-five years experience in health and health education-based organizations, with a BSc in Human Development, and an MPH from George Washington University.
Erica’s appointment follows an eighteen-month strategic planning and community assessment process. The Board of Directors has exciting plans to expand the clinic’s services, mission and locations, and the addition of Erica will help galvanize the community’s resources to drive growth.
Dr. Keith Gray, Chief Medical Officer of the University of Tennessee Medical Center, who has spearheaded the growth of FMCA in the last three years as a Board Member commented: “Providing health services to working people across Knoxville who would otherwise have no access to basic healthcare is critical to the development of our community and its people. Erica’s experience of founding and building public health practices will help us grow, and we’re excited by the positive impact she is already having.”
Board Chair Dr. Randall Dabs added: “We are excited by the role that Erica will play in helping us grow as an organization. We have big plans, and her experience will be essential to our continued progression against our challenging goals.”
“I am really honored to join this group to help with such an important mission,” said Erica Lyon. “The Board is committed to continuing and honoring our founder’s legacy, and it’s inspiring to see the community involvement and support for the clinic as we help address health inequities in our region. I am loving being in the clinic and seeing the direct health services that we are providing that are changing lives.”
The Free Medical Clinic of America (FMCA) was informally started on Chapman Hwy in 1993 by Dr. Tom Kim and formally organized as a 501c3 nonprofit in 2005. Dr. Tom Kim became renowned in Knoxville for his Christian commitment to service and giving back to his community by providing free healthcare for the working uninsured. Dr. Kim went on to open multiple free clinics in our region, sparking a movement toward health equity before the topic was even being talked about.
Erica Lyon added, “What is incredibly inspiring about working at this clinic is seeing the legacy that one person’s spark created. At FMCA we are addressing real health disparities for a population that is often overlooked – hard-working families that cannot afford health insurance premiums and hourly workers who are building their careers but who don’t yet have health insurance.
“Our goal is to keep people healthy so they “job up” in our region- it’s really exciting when we “graduate” someone from the free clinic because they were able to stay healthy and move up in their career to a job with benefits. Our local economy depends on the workers we keep healthy.”
This year, FMCA added a dental clinic for the uninsured in South Knoxville. Dr. Randall Dabs, the board chair of FMCA stated: “Adding dental when we are a primary healthcare facility was the logical next step. When addressing health, dental and physical health are often intertwined. We realized our patient base has very little access to dental care given their low-income uninsured status.”
Dr. Keith Gray, Chief Medical Officer of UTMCK who has championed the clinic since Dr. Kim‘s retirement and has been acting as Interim Executive Director, since 2019, added. “We have been incredibly fortunate in community support in continuing Dr. Kim’s vision of healthcare for the working uninsured and giving back to our communities. We are very grateful for many local groups in helping support FMCA’s work to add dental services. Addressing health disparities is a passion of mine and the volunteer commitments from the University Medical Center and many doctors and medical teaching programs around the area have really added to our ability to serve.”
Ms. G is a patient that began care at Free Medical Care of America about two years ago. She has been able to get her diabetes under control and has begun losing weight. Ms. G stated the staff was “really nice and down to earth.”
“They really listen” she emphasized. “I have been to free clinics before, and I would tell them I was diabetic and they would just throw outdated meds at me. I told them I was having a hard time getting my sugars down and other clinics told me to just take more (medicine). At the Free Clinic, they worked with me on my timing and making small changes. I kicked soda, which I used to have a real problem with!” Ms. G said proudly. “The Free Clinic has also been really helpful with my depression because dealing with diabetes is also depressing.” Ms. G has lost weight since beginning care for her diabetes at the clinic. “In the past, I would start to feel better and then stop the meds, because of my visits here I understand more on how to manage my own health.”
Jim Womack, one of the primary care providers, added, “Many of our patients have multiple health challenges. We really work on stabilizing them, providing patient education, and ensuring they feel like they have a care home to come to.”