Main Street Mover is a regular feature about people who are making a difference in Middle Tennessee.
Brian Haile, please tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in Kingsport in East Tennessee – but now live in Nashville, where I am the CEO at Neighborhood Health. I am married to Maury Nation, who is a clinical psychologist and professor at Vanderbilt.
Where did you graduate high school? College? Degree?
Sullivan South High School in Kingsport is my high school alma mater, and it graduated its last class in 2021 before closing. I went to Georgetown University for college and later law school, and I also received a masters degree from University of California, Berkeley and another from the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
How long did you live in Cape Town?
I lived there two years and worked for the provincial hospital system while also attending the University of Cape Town. We were focused on the affordability of drug prices for HIV in the late 1990’s before HIV became such a dominant issue in that country.
What brought you to the Nashville area?
My three nieces live here, and that number grew to five since I moved. I was lucky enough to get a position working for folks in state government whom I deeply admired, which made it an easy decision to relocate.
What was the pivotal moment you decided to dedicate your career to public health?
That decision was made for me. I wanted to join the U.S. Foreign Service and work abroad – but the Foreign Service canceled the entrance exam and didn’t accept new recruits the year I graduated. So, I had to make another plan – and did some work in health care until I could sign up for the next Foreign Service exam. But I soon realized how impactful that this work in public health can be, and I never looked back.
What led you to Neighborhood Health?
I had served in and around government for 15 or 20 years before joining Neighborhood Health. A recruiter asked if I would be interested in working for a federally qualified health center, I said “No, not unless it’s Neighborhood Health – and I doubt CEO Mary Bufwack is going to retire.” As it turns out, Mary was stepping down as CEO after 29 years – and I made a bee line to meet with that recruiter the same afternoon we first spoke. Neighborhood Health really is that amazing of a place to work!
Tell us a little about Neighborhood Health.
Neighborhood Health is a community treasure. With 11 clinics in Nashville and Lebanon, the team here provides medical, dental and behavioral health care to 31,000 patients. Many of the patients have private insurance, TennCare, or Medicare – but just as many have no coverage. And we make it work so everyone gets the same high-quality care. I’m particularly proud of our work in minority communities: Neighborhood Health built the type of trust that made us the largest safety net provider of primary care for African Americans and persons of color in our region.
What is the philosophy of your organization?
Two things animate our vision at Neighborhood Health. First, everyone is welcome here: the only requirement to get care is that you have a pulse. Second, life is complicated. We are here to support folks with their health conditions and everything that contributes to them. That means we have food pharmacies for those who are hungry, diapers for those who face that huge expense, etc.
You serve veterans in a special way?
We recognize the central role of the Veterans Administration, which gives amazing care. My dad is a disabled veteran who gets excellent care at the VA. However, some veterans may not be eligible to get care there – and we absolutely welcome them (and any veteran) here regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay. But our work extends beyond former members of the U.S. military: We are also thinking about the new wave of veterans from the Afghan Army who had to flee their homeland – and what they may need when the relocate here.
Tell us about your recent initiative related to COVID -19 vaccinations.
Working closely with Metro Public Health, the Metro Homeless Impact Division, and 15 other nonprofit organizations, we were able to vaccinate about 60% of adults in Nashville who are experiencing homelessness – and all before Memorial Day 2021. That work continues, and it’s never been more urgent. Indeed, anyone experiencing homelessness can walk up to our downtown clinic (between Room in the Inn and the Nashville Rescue Mission) and get a free COVID vaccination on any weekday.
Explain your Nashville Takes on COVID initiative.
Working with Nashville General Hospital Foundation and many others, Neighborhood Health is launching a Nashville Takes on COVID initiative this month. We seek to increase the number of Nashville residents age 12 and older who initiate COVID vaccinations and wear masks to protect themselves, friends and family. To that end, we will:
• Put well-produced but very brief content about COVID vaccines and masking in front of every Nashvillian this month;
• Show Nashvillians exactly how we are lowering barriers to make vaccines accessible to everyone; and
• Give out at least 10,000 re-usable masks.
Everyone can help: Go to www.NashvilleTakesOnCOVID.org and take the “Nashville Takes on COVID” pledge and start posting the content we provide on social media. And we welcome additional businesses, schools, churches, unions, nonprofits, and other organizations to join our the “Nashville Takes On COVID” coalition and amplify these critically important messages.
You have a record of volunteerism. What organizations have you worked with?
Aside from work, I spend time with the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). CASA advocates for individual children in the foster system – and their work is indispensable for these young people and their futures.
Who is your mentor?
Mary Bufwack is a dear friend and generous mentor. I also appreciate the counsel of so many talented, smart folks such as George Brandes, Dave Goetz, Darin Gordon and every member of the executive team and on the board of directors at Neighborhood Health.
If you could spend an evening with anyone, past or present, who and why? What would you ask?
I’m tempted to say James Baldwin or Dorothy Day or Abraham Lincoln. But they did us such the great favor of leaving us so much to read what they wrote or was written about them. I’d be most curious now as to what they would say were the things that sustained them.
Best piece of advice you’ve received? Given?
Life is an open book test, and the Bible is your book. But be patient: it may take a lifetime to understand what you are reading.