Faith-Based Healthcare

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Healthcare system partners with churches to help patients navigate the system

Baptist Health Paducah in Kentucky is reaching its patients in a novel way. Earlier this year, the hospital launched the Congregational Network for Healthcare (CNH).

“The concept is for the hospital to form partnerships with local faith communities,” explained Ruthanne Cockrell, RN, nurse navigator. The network notifies pastors and church volunteers when congregation members are admitted to the hospital. No specific medical data are provided and patients must sign a waiver giving permission for the hospital to disclose this information. It is open to churches of all denominations.

Bridging the Care Gap

Cockrell and Rick Johnson, chaplain navigator, then identify specific discharge needs of patients. “Due to the complexity of healthcare, sometimes patients go home confused,” Cockrell said. The CNH seeks to bridge any gaps in care. Will patients need rides to appointments? Will they need reminders to take their medication? Johnson and Cockrell communicate that information to the church volunteers who can best help the patient transition to home.

“There is the element of trust with this church family,” Cockrell said. Sometimes elderly patients who live alone are reluctant to let a home health worker into their house. The network will ask a volunteer from the patient’s church to be present when the home health worker comes to the house. The presence of a familiar face from the congregation reassures the patient he or she is safe.

“Sometimes pride gets in the way of getting help,” Cockrell explained. “If they don’t have to ask for help, it makes it easier.” Seemingly simple tasks, such as getting to a doctor’s appointment, can be a struggle for some elderly patients. One function of the CNH is making pastors aware of community resources that can benefit their parishioners in need. “My role is to be an advocate for patients who do not have support,” Cockrell noted.

Counseling on Health and Faith Needs

Continuing health education is another component of the network. “It helps them empower their own self-care,” Cockrell said. Patients without a primary care physician will visit the ED for all their healthcare needs, putting a strain on resources. Once aware of these patients, the CNH can educate them and connect them to a provider.

Chaplain Rick Johnson and nurse navigator Ruthanne Cockrell partner with local parishes in the Paducah, Kenucky region to provide community-based care. Photo courtesy of Baptist Health Paducah

Chaplain Rick Johnson and nurse navigator Ruthanne Cockrell partner with local parishes in the Paducah, Kenucky region to provide community-based care. Photo courtesy of Baptist Health Paducah

Chaplain Rick Johnson and nurse navigator Ruthanne Cockrell partner with local parishes in the Paducah, Kenucky region to provide community-based care. Photo courtesy of Baptist Health Paducah

Cockrell and Johnson plan to conduct health surveys at member churches to gather data on the health status of their congregations, in order to identify which issues are prevalent. They can then present information on managing those chronic diseases, such as diabetes, respiratory illnesses, and heart failure. The CNH will also help patients complete advance healthcare directives.

“My role as a chaplain is to provide spiritual and emotional support,” Johnson said. He tracks the patients’ progress with daily visits in the hospital. “As chaplains, we let the patient lead the conversation and discover what needs he or she has.” Pastoral outreach can continue with the patients’ families. Johnson is available to counsel about ethical healthcare decision-making and to offer support as families wrestle with difficult decisions, such as deciding whether or not to remove a loved one from life support.

Empowering Community Health

Baptist Health Paducah is the first hospital to launch the network program in the Baptist Health System. The program is adapted from the successful model at Methodist LeBonheur in Memphis, which was initiated in 2006.

“We are engaging the individual congregations to determine what will benefit them and provide the best outcomes,” Johnson said.

The emphasis on community health and chronic disease management in the Memphis Model has resulted in reduced readmission rates and decreased incidences of mortality, thus reducing healthcare costs. “Our desire is that we will experience similar results,” Johnson said.

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Danielle Bullen Love
Danielle Bullen Love

Danielle Bullen Love is editor of ADVANCE for Nursing.

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