Maryland Faith Community Health Network aims to keep congregants healthy

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— Reverend Domanic A. Smith, pastor of Ezekiel Church and Ministries, located at 3215 W. Belvedere Avenue in Baltimore City says many churches are faced with the challenge of congregants being admitted to the hospital without their fellow members being notified. Pastor Smith feels that if congregants are aware of a member’s hospitalization, they can provide needed support.

“Oftentimes, church congregants are admitted to the hospital, but the pastor and others aren’t told,” said Pastor Smith. “It’s hard for us to assist them with whatever their needs might be.”

The Maryland Faith Community Health Network, a new, free pilot program at LifeBridge Health, is seeking to change this all too common scenario, by helping faith leaders to deploy their ministry resources. The goal is to provide timely, appropriate support for their ailing congregants.

LifeBridge Health owns Sinai, Northwest and Carroll hospitals. Several Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll County, and Harford County churches, which include Ezekiel Church and Ministries, have signed on to the program, which provides a direct link between places of worship and LifeBridge’s hospitals.

Pastor Smith also serves as a staff protestant chaplain at LifeBridge Health. In January 2016, he became the pastoral outreach coordinator within Population Health at LifeBridge Health.

“The goal of this program is to foster better relationships between the faith and health communities,” said Pastor Smith. “Oftentimes, parishioners go into the hospital and members of their church do not know. This program seeks to give churches the opportunity to help the congregant once they leave the hospital. This includes things like helping the congregant with their meals, picking up their prescriptions, getting to appointments, helping them with laundry, and cutting their grass.”

He added, “Sometimes, a person doesn’t think about those things when they are sick. The benefit of this program is that faith leaders know when their parishioners are admitted to the hospital, and deploys the ministry resources more effectively and efficiently.”

The Maryland Faith Community Health Network is based on the successful Congregational Health Network program in Memphis, Tennessee, where hospitals trained volunteers in faith communities.

“Our goal is to help congregations to enhance their ministry around the sick, by providing visitation and provided needed support,” said Pastor Smith. “Many times people go back to the hospital with the same issues because of small issues. These small issues could be things like not being able to get their medicine. The congregation can help them with things like that. This program engages the faith community by helping their congregants to live a better, healthier, life.”

The Maryland Faith Community Health Network is encouraging churches to enroll. After entering an agreement with the network, the church appoints an appropriate contact person and encourages members of the congregation to participate.

When congregants are admitted to a LifeBridge hospital, they can show their Network card, and the hospital will contact the appointed representative to let them know they would like a call or a visit from someone in the congregation and any other support the members could offer. Finally, when the congregant goes home from the hospital, the member and representative will have a single point person at the hospital to contact to resolve issues, questions, or complications.

“Now hospitals are charged to take preventative measures to make healthcare better,” said Pastor Smith. “I will get a report on a patient at Sinai and Northwest hospitals, and ask if they would like their church liaison to be contacted. We will not tell what the health issue is, as we follow the HIPAA privacy rule. The patient can share their medical information, but we will not.”

He added, “However far the patient wants their congregation to help, that’s how far they go. People are excited about the program. It provides avenues for people to check on their congregants while they are in the hospital, and after being discharged.”

Vincent DeMarco is the president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative Education Fund. In 1999, the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative established the Maryland Health Care for All! Coalition. The mission of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative is to educate Marylanders about feasible and effective ways to expand access to quality affordable health insurance for state residents.

“The Maryland Faith Community Health Network will improve and reduce health disparities, and make life better for many Marylanders,” said DeMarco. “We hope to expand this partnership to all the other hospitals soon. We are thrilled that the hospitals and faith-based communities are committed to making this work.”

He added, “It’s important to give support to people in church congregations who are called to improve the lives of their congregants. This program provides the necessary support to allow them to do something they have always wanted to do, which is to help their congregants to stay healthy.”

For more information about The Maryland Faith Community Health Network, call 410-235-9000, or visit: www.healthcareforall.com.