A relative newcomer to Memphis, Antony Sheehan has held the position of President of the Church Health Center
since October 2013. After working as a policy advisor for the healthcare in England, mostly during the Blair administration, Sheehan accepted a position as the CEO of a small hospital system in England in the National Health Service
. That job gave him the opportunity to work in a more grassroots capacity and earned him a fellowship that eventually became his bridge to America.
Tell us about your own educational experience.
All of my education took place in England. I have two bachelor’s degrees: Clinical Nursing from St. George’s College of Nursing and Education from Manchester Metropolitan University. I also earned a post-graduate diploma in Health Services Management from the University of Keele and a research degree in Philosophy from the University of Nottingham.
What brought you to Memphis?
About three years ago, my family and I moved to the United States from Birmingham, England. We lived in Boston where I studied for a year at Harvard University and the Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI). The latter is a quality think tank that has existed for about 20 years and works globally, particularly in the United States, to advance improvements in healthcare quality and safety. It was meant to be a one-year fellowship, then I was supposed to return to England and resume the CEO position for the hospital system. But then I met Scott Morris, and as they say…the rest is history. I fell in love with the mission of the Church Health Center and that is what sealed the deal.
What excites you about Memphis?
It’s more than one thing. I see Memphis as a place of opportunity and possibility. People can dream here and people are open to exciting possibilities. There’s no arrogance that excludes new ideas. There is a certain attitude that says, “We kind of know how to do things here,” but that actually welcomes people and their ideas. It’s more than just Southern hospitality.
And there’s a level of need here that matches my field of interest. I’ve always worked with people who were living in the margins of society, those who were trying to build a life out of a fair degree of adversity. As a community, Memphis has its share of people struggling to do well in their lives. I believe that there was a sense of a calling for me to be here. Additionally, we live in Midtown and I like that Memphis is diverse. My parents were from Scotland and Ireland and my in-laws are from the Caribbean.
What is the change you would most like to see here?
I’m deeply impressed by some of the attempts that are taking place to improve the identity of the city, initiatives involving housing, jobs and transportation. I believe in time we can make other improvements to make sure that people have better access to primary care (like pre- and post-natal care for every pregnant woman in the city). One of our biggest challenges is building a stronger system in healthcare, especially for our poorer communities. We need to think more about “health” and not just about “illness.”
What excites you about your work?
I’m a public servant. I’m excited to work in a place that is charged with being of service to others. And at 50 years old, the thought that I can continue to learn, both personally and spiritually, that’s an amazing gift – and in a new city in a new country, to boot.
Then there’s the excitement of working to create a model of practice that is going to be a beacon, in America and across the world, for healthcare. The American healthcare system is looking for something different to answer problems that have been perceived as intractable. Our model is care-based in the community and of the community. It is an integrated system that offers “one-stop shopping” for healthcare, from medical and dental to coaching for nutrition and diet. And it is not just about illness, it is about wellness.
Whose leadership do you admire in Memphis?
Scott Morris is an obvious answer for me. He has this deep well of energy and great vision, coupled with tenacity and generosity. It is a rare combination. Also, Mike Bruns, Chairman of the CHC Board. He came to Memphis and had to start over after losing his job. Now he has built a very successful business. His experience is inspirational. And, looking within the healthcare industry, I think that Dr. Bob Waller is one of the best leaders that healthcare has ever seen at any place, at any time, based on his intelligence and his ability to answer the question, “What should we do?” With his exceptional knowledge base, his humility is off the charts, which makes him that much more admirable.
What is your leadership philosophy?
Leaders should possess a profound belief in knowledge, not just scientific or educational, but knowledge that comes from the people you are trying to serve. There needs to be a sense of purpose beyond self. Great leadership should have a desire to see the world from the point of view of those being served. Additionally, real leadership includes the ability to liberate talent — to identity, nurture, develop and unleash talent in others.
What’s in store for the next chapter at Church Health Center?
Clearly, a location move to the Crosstown Concourse
(formerly known as the Sears Crosstown building) is on the near horizon for the CHC. There we will consolidate 14 buildings worth of services and have more space to serve more people. Also, we will be in partnership with others outside of our usual healthcare realm, such as artists, a charter school, and more.
Additionally, the CHC has a strong voice in designing a new system where healthcare is about promoting the health of a community, not just treatment of illness. This system will give a voice to service with a mission of helping people get healthcare.
What is one of your favorite things about Memphis?
I love the social side of Memphis. I’ve found that if you open your heart to Memphis and show it some love, it will love you back. It is very easy here to feel like you are a part of your community
Tell us something most people don't know about you.
Apart from work and family, I have three other passions: English soccer (football) and Manchester United, my team; our Labrador dogs that traveled with us from England; and “Chick Flicks.” Some of my favorites are Hugh Grant films, Pretty Woman,
and the all-time classic, Breakfast at Tiffany’s