Chattanooga faith-based health council adopts new name honoring late advocate Chris Ramsey

Elizabeth Fite, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.
·3 min read

Feb. 24—A local faith-based health council whose goal is to improve health in Chattanooga's underserved communities will resume activities this month under a new name honoring late advocate and founding member Chris Ramsey.

The council formed in January 2019 with the idea to leverage the area's strength as a churchgoing city to stamp out health disparities through collaboration, sharing best practices, education, developing community initiatives and programs, and conducting an annual health and wellness symposium.

At the time, Black Hamilton County residents were dying from diabetes at a rate 2.7 times higher than that of white people, heart disease at 1.2 times higher, and kidney disease at 3.6 times higher. Not only do those disparities remain today, but those same conditions greatly increase one's risk of dying due to COVID-19.

Ramsey said during the first council meeting that he was "tired of looking at these same numbers" because the statistics weren't improving. The idea to form the council wasn't about who gets credit, but about addressing the needs of the community, he said.

"We've got medical professionals, we've got nurses — grab another person and bring them alongside you — y'all can see the spiritual gifts that we have right here in this room," he said at the time. "My prayer is that we break down these silos."

Ramsey died in January 2021 due to complications from COVID-19. He was 54 years old.

Founding council member LaDarius Price, community outreach manager at Cempa Community Care, said that before the pandemic, he and Ramsey were working through the council to enroll local churches in a "faith and fitness" challenge.

"We had so much momentum and excitement around it, and it went over really well. Then once March hit, it brought everything to a standstill," Price said.

The two were working to kick-start council activities again just before Ramsey died.

"He and I had talked about at the very end of 2020 that we need to get the churches re-engaged, because a lot of churches were not meeting in person, and a lot of them still aren't," Price said, adding that continuing this work is even more important in light of the pandemic.

COVID-19 has widened existing health disparities and hit "Black and brown communities" the hardest, Price said. African Americans account for 27% of Hamilton County's coronavirus deaths despite Black people making up 19% of the county's population, according to data from the Hamilton County Health Department.

The renaming announcement was made via news release from Cempa and the Southeast Tennessee Health Consortium, a nonprofit that Ramsey served as co-president and that organizes the annual minority health fair.

The release stated, "According to Cempa CEO Shannon Stephenson, Ramsey's truest passion was addressing and finding solutions to the health disparities of Chattanooga's minority communities. And because of his leadership and mentorship of other community health advocates, Ramsey's efforts will continue for many years to come."

The "Chris Ramsey Faith-Based Health Council" will meet this Saturday, Feb. 27, using the online format "GoToMeeting." For more information, contact LaDarius Price at lprice@cempa.org.

Contact Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or follow her on Twitter @ecfite.