Dr. Robert Campbell
Christ Community Health Services Augusta
Photo by John Harpring
The story behind Christ Community Health Services Augusta spins like a fairytale. A tale with a deeper kind of magic. With no more than a meager, pumpkin-style $40 checking account balance and a small, mouse-sized staff of four, in just four years, Dr. Robert Campbell has managed to transform the CCHSA into a golden carriage of affordable quality medical care.
Under improbable circumstances, the practice based on serving the impoverished community of the greater Augusta area has experienced bountiful growth. Today, with three full-time physicians and two nurse practitioners and a total staff of 24, CCHSA is well on its way to meeting its ultimate goal of 30,000 annual patient visits. Campbell, a 1999 graduate of University of Illinois School of Medicine, was inspired to pioneer the Augusta center based on his medical training experience at a similar healthcare organization in Memphis. Like its Tennessee namesake, the Augusta organization operates under the mission of “demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ” through the provision of primary healthcare to those with little or no means to pay for it.
Perhaps nothing tells the story better of the little center that grew than the numbers. Like the number of patients seen—from the first November 2007 days of a mere handful of patients to more than 9,000 patient visits last year.And like the facility dimensions that once measured 1,800 square feet of refurbished space owned by University Hospital to 6,200 square feet of newly renovated space, with 6,000 additional square feet in process, all owned by the CCHSA.
But the tale would not be complete without understanding how the practice came to call the historic Widows Home building on Greene Street its home.
Embarking on the road to urban medical ministry, Campbell, an internist and pediatrician, kept his eyes open for opportunities. And like gleaming stars on a cloudless night, they began to appear before the CCHSA had seen its first patient.
As Campbell shared with others his vision of medical care, the responses varied, and included a notable letter of encouragement from a woman he had met at a local event. Years later, Campbell met with investor/developer Clay Boardman, whose plans were to convert the Widows Home into downtown living space. Through their initial meeting over breakfast, and subsequent contacts, Boardman agreed to sell the site to CCHSA. While the group was thrilled at the possibility of acquiring the property, Campbell knew his next hurdle was to raise the capital to purchase and renovate the home. Then he remembered the woman who had written to him, so supportive of quality medical care for the underserved. In a simple message to Boardman, Campbell mentioned the letter and its author, Ann Boardman, Clay’s mother. Campbell asked for the chance to meet with them together. Almost instantly, he received the response in his email: “How about if I just give you that building?” Boardman donated the building to the group with a forgivable note, providing it was used as planned. The day the CCHSA broke ground, the note was forgiven.
The group has also benefitted from the medical community’s support and accessible hospital services, particularly from University Hospital. The “unwavering encouragement” from University has helped the CCHSA flourish, says Campbell. “I use [University] for my own family not just for the quality of care but because of their rubber-meets-the-road community investment to the poor that I have witnessed firsthand.”
As Campbell looks to the future of the CCHSA, he returns to the heart of the organization’s mission and challenges the staff, “to share life [with their patients] and to see things through their eyes as we take care of them. To live incarnationally. The model we have for that is Christ.” A deeper magic indeed.