Contributed by Margaret Ecker, August 2019
I joined the Coalition as a community organizer after graduating from Vanderbilt in Philosophy in 1970. I stayed on with the Coalition through the next school year to help with year end reports and preparation for the next summer. Inspired by the work of the Coalition, I eventually put aside plans for law school and went on to earn a master’s degree in nursing and then nurse practitioner education before returning to East Tennessee. Bill Dow was my clinical preceptor.
I came back to Briceville, Tenn. in 1975 to work in their community owned clinic, located in a TVA trailer. Byrd Duncan was my supervisor, and Rick Davidson provided medical coverage for my clinical decisions. Later, I moved back to Nashville and worked in the Planned Parenthood Teen Clinic, and the primary care clinic at Cayce Homes. Irwin Venick was my boss at the Cayce Clinic.
In the late 1980s, I came out to Los Angeles to pursue a master’s degree in Fine Arts. For my first paying job as an artist, I taught Art Appreciation in a women’s prison. But eventually I drifted back to nursing, first at the beside of pediatric oncology patients, and eventually in hospital administration as director of nursing quality at a tertiary care hospital here in LA.
Just after retirement, in 2013, I was privileged to hear Bill Corr, then assistant secretary of HHS and former administrator for a network of clinics in East Tennessee, talk about the fabulousness of the Affordable Care Act. Inspired by Bill Corr’s words, I came over to Tennessee for the next two years to help with the roll out of ACA, in a state generally hostile to the project. The Tennessee Justice Center provided a home base for that work. The old ties from East and West Tennessee were invaluable in the grass roots organizing that we did in a so-far-futile effort to get the state legislators to expand medicaid. The suffering that the lack of Medicaid expansion has foisted on rural communities in Tennessee (and elsewhere) has been especially brutal, but the old community leaders keep on keeping on, fighting to keep hope alive for better health care, and so do their descendants.
Back in LA, I now work the primary care angle again, providing volunteer nursing care on the street for people unhoused while they wait for the wheels of justice to grind them out some affordable housing. Out here on the left coast, health care is more often a right, not just a privilege, than in many others other states in our country. I feel lucky to have learned the critical value of that principle early on, coming of age as I did under the influence of the SHC, way back in the beginning.