Triumph Through Tragedy: How a Trio of Heroes Saved a Community Practice Following the Passing of a Physician Leader

Late last year, Brownsville Medical Clinic (BMC) in West Tennessee lost its founder and main provider with the passing of Jerald White, MD. If not for the efforts from a trio of hometown heroes, the Brownsville community would have lost even more than a universally loved physician; the entire practice could have crumbled in the aftermath. Instead, something inspirational happened.

“We’re going to come out on top, because we have to,” said Claudia White, who assumed leadership of the practice’s three clinics after her husband’s death. “There’s no preparation for something like this happening, and there’s no easy path ahead. But this is family, and we’re not going anywhere.”

White’s first leadership assignment was to find a new supervisory physician, which turned out to be the easiest task of all after a well-respected community physician and family friend raised his hand to fill the role for the clinic. But then came a barrage of challenging tasks: new malpractice insurance, change of ownership, credentialing responsibilities, a data breach with the practice’s clearinghouse and a temporary pause of claims submissions that would quickly create an onerous backlog. 

The weight of these expectations while grieving her husband might have proved to be too much for White, if not for two other amazing women coming to her aid: Louise Burkhead and Lucinda Chilcutt.

Burkhead was a semi-retired medical billing and coding expert who had consulted with the practice on multiple projects. When she heard the sad news, she reached out to White and volunteered to do everything she could to help steady the practice. Meanwhile, Chilcutt came out of retirement after decades of service with BMC, commuting more than an hour to pitch in and help as well. White calls them “life savers.”

Over the past few months, the practice has made tremendous strides behind the determination of these women. The insurance, credentialing and change of ownership tasks have all been completed. The clearinghouse breach has been mitigated. The claims backlog is almost completely erased. And on top it all, BMC is thriving as a VHAN practice, including successfully migrating to WorkDay, consistently using quality performance reports and completing attestation with their United Healthcare contract. The latter required a significant manual lift for the team since the practice predominately operates with paper charting.  Since the fall of 2023, BMC has also made dramatic improvements on several quality measures, including well-child visits (from 0% to 29%) and Kidney Health Evaluation for Patients With Diabetes (KED) (from 15% to 25%).

This success is due to the trio’s unwavering commitment to the community, but also because of a special bond they share. When Burkhead’s husband passed in 2021, Chilcutt supported her through the grieving process. She had lost her spouse just a few years earlier. When White experienced the same fate last year, Burkhead paid that kindness forward.

“God allows you to go through things in life, so that when another needs light in darkness, your flame is already established,” Burkhead said. “Use your flame to light their darkness. I live by that advice, and that’s a big reason I wanted to do everything I could to help Claudia and the practice.”

“We’ve all had to draw strength from each other and remind ourselves that there are people who are depending on us, so we just have to keep going,” Chilcutt added. “Through all the hard stuff, the frustration, we’ve cried and also laughed.”

While BMC is celebrating its triumph through tragedy, the practice isn’t finished growing and evolving. They are committing to further adoption of technology, taking greater advantage of VHAN resources and continuing to deliver high-quality, empathetic care to their patients in a way that would make Dr. White proud.

“We want to care well for our community, and we want to honor my husband’s legacy,” White said. “We will move forward and get better. This story is to be continued!”

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