The power of a health coach at UTHSC Health Hub in Memphis

A community of better health in Memphis

Shirley Cain, or “Miss Shirley” as she’s known, visits her neighborhood Health Hub every Tuesday. It’s the place where she gets a check of her vitals, learns about new exercises to stay active and on this Tuesday, gets a lesson in making a delicious and healthy stir fry from scratch.

“I love the colors of the vegetables,” said Colbie Andrews, a health coach at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) Health Hub in the Uptown neighborhood of Memphis.

Colbie is co-leading a cooking class for clients, like Miss Shirley, as part of a larger conversation about healthy eating as a way to help manage chronic conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.

“I like to tell people that I look at myself and health coaches as bridges and so we bridge the gap between the clinic and the community, the client and the community or the community and the clinic,” Colbie said.

Colbie also provides individualized coaching sessions for people like Shirley to help encourage a healthier lifestyle. Shirley, who has struggled with a heart condition and suffered a stroke a few years ago, said the program helps her feel motivated to manage her health.

“Everybody’s all smiles all the time,” Shirley said. “And that’s enough to encourage me even more.”

The UTHSC Health Hub was created in October of 2021, with support from UnitedHealthcare, to help deliver a neighborhood-based approach to improving health outcomes in underserved areas.

Of the patients served, 60% have obesity and 52% have uncontrolled hypertension.1 Chronic disease management in Memphis remains an issue, interlinked with not just food security — access to healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables — but also transportation.

For UnitedHealthcare, collaborating with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center to further develop, scale, and sustain the neighborhood health hub model has been part of UnitedHealthcare’s Communities of Health initiative.

What makes Communities of Health so special is that it recognizes when communities are missing critical resources like access to health care and nutritious foods and then partners with local organizations to build them, ensuring a path to sustainability along the way. It embraces the concept of collective impact by convening equal partners with a shared vision for improving the community, and encouraging cooperation from both public and private sector.

Communities will have a greater opportunity to overcome systemic challenges and thrive through public/private sector collaboration, co-creation, and investment. UnitedHealthcare is committed to helping make Memphis a healthier and more equitable city to live and work, inviting more leaders in the private sector to join the Communities of Health initiative.

“We combine our data with community insights to really get a good look at the gaps in services and the needs, and then work together to address it in that way,” said LaPorcha Carter, director of community partnerships for UnitedHealth Group.

With these insights, the UTHSC Hub is able to offer neighborhood residents access to health coaches who provide a system of support through things like weight loss, blood pressure control, healthy eating strategies, physical activity and quality of life improvements. 

Shirley said the coaching has made a definite impact in her life.

“I exercise more now. Last year, that was not the case because there's so many other things going on and being kind of depressed a lot and nothing to do, nowhere to go,” Shirley said. “So once I started coming here, then everybody's all smiles, all the time. And that's enough to encourage me even more.”

The hope is to lay the groundwork to support a healthier community as a whole, by removing barriers and getting ahead of chronic condition management.

“The mission of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center's Neighborhood Health Hubs Initiative is to increase access to essential primary and preventive care and doing that to really measurably improve population health and health equity in the neighborhoods of Memphis that need it most,” said Dr. Jim Bailey, director of the Center for Health Systems Improvement and the Tennessee Population Health Consortium at UTHSC.

As of June 2023, services at the Hub are seeing results, with 1,655 visits.2 This includes:

  • 300 screening visits
  • 290 initial health coaching visits
  • 626 health coaching follow-up visits
  • 439 group session attendees


“(Historically) we've really taken a rescue care approach waiting until things get terribly bad before we bring any type of help,” Dr. Bailey said. “Our neighborhood health hubs initiative aims to do something different and then get in front of the curve to improve access to those essential services.”

The ultimate goal of the Health Hub is to create a sustained journey of care for the members in the community who need it most. This might mean nutrition education classes on how to cook a delicious, healthy meal or one-on-one health coaching that provides guidance, support – and compassion.

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