In August 2002, Tom N. Edwards, M.D. began the prayerfully pursuing his vision to found a community-based and ministry-driven family medical practice in urban Birmingham. Dr. Edwards cultivated this vision during his ten-year service as a medical missionary in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, West Africa. Having practiced with the Medical Center East Family Practice Clinic in the East Lake community before his move to Ivory Coast in 1989, he became aware of this community’s need for a medical clinic and declining economy.
East Lake’s recent history of economic decline fed a recurring cycle of increased crime, substandard education, job loss, and increased mental and physical health issues. While its healthcare needs rose during the 1990s, many healthcare providers fled the neighborhood to more economically stable areas. Founded in 1945 as East End Memorial Hospital, Medical Center East relocated from East Lake to Trussville in 1986. The Medical Center East Family Practice Clinic remained in East Lake until 1994 when it also transitioned to the city of Trussville. These decisions, however necessary, left East Lake with only one primary health care provider for the next ten years, Dr. Omar Kalif. Dr. Kalif retired in 2004, a few months after Dr. Edwards’ arrival.
Dr. Edwards developed a partnership with Household of Faith Church, a local African-American congregation deeply rooted in the East Lake community. At the request of both this congregation and other local neighborhood association leaders, Dr. Edwards accepted the call to transform a condemned home owned by the church into a neighborhood family practice. The next several months were testament to perseverance in the face of great obstacles. After a three month legal battle to rezone the property from residential to a medical clinic, it was finally time to begin renovations to the building.
In December 2006, Household of Faith Family Medical Care was awarded a $10,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham to help support the capital improvements. However, just as construction was about to begin, Dr. Edwards discovered that Christ Health Center (Dr. Robert Record, a physician and Associate Pastor at Church of the Highlands) would soon be occupying the former Eastern Public Health Clinic in Woodlawn, just one mile from the HOFFMC clinic with a similar mission to provide medical care to the underserved. Not wanting to duplicate services in the community, the Board of Directors decided to explore other low-income areas in the Birmingham area as potential places to relocate. In December 2008, Church of the Reconciler in Fairfield made an incredibly generous and unexpectedly donated a large one-level, accessible building in downtown Fairfield to be converted to a healthcare facility. While the building would require extensive renovations, it had originally been designed as a medical clinic operating during the late 1980s and the floor plan was ideal for the clinic’s needs.
In addition, the need of Fairfield residents for a medical clinic (particularly one that serves the uninsured and Medicaid and Medicare recipients) is tremendous. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the city of Fairfield has a total population of over 11,000. 21.5% of all individuals in Fairfield live below poverty level compared to a national average of 12.4%. The poverty rate increases significantly for children (27.6% under 18 and 24.8% under 5) and is highest for children of female-headed families with no husband present at 37%. Due to the high rate of poverty in this area, many individuals and families are unable to afford health insurance or are dependent on Medicaid or Medicare to cover their medical expenses. In Alabama, approximately 15.6% of residents are uninsured. Although the statistics are not readily available, it is likely that the number of people who are uninsured is much higher in Fairfield and West Birmingham due to a high concentration of poverty.
In July of 2009, Dr. Edwards relocated the clinic and several staff members to Fairfield and changed the name of the organization to Hope Health Center. Since then, our ministry has experienced significant growth and change, including the addition of a new nurse, doctor (Benjamin Davidson, M.D.), and director of operations and development. In 2009, the clinic went through the process of converting to Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and networking with other organizations and ministries in the community. Many patients originally from the East Lake clinic continue to travel across town to continue seeing Dr. Edwards as the number of new patients from Fairfield and surrounding areas steadily grows. We are excited about what God is doing in Fairfield and pray that He will continue to use this ministry to impact people’s lives for His glory!