hospitals

The Power of Partnership

THE CONGREGATIONAL HEALTH NETWORK began with a simple request from the largest hospital network in Memphis to a group of local pastors: Help us take better care of your people.

Ten years ago, officials at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare were worried that chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity were threatening the well-being of local residents and sending health-care costs through the roof.

“People in their 20s were coming to the emergency room in end-stage renal failure,” said Rev. Bobby Baker, a Baptist pastor and director of faith and community partnerships at Methodist Healthcare. “That person is going to be using critical care resources for the rest of their life.”

Hospital officials knew something had to change. They wanted to focus on preventive health care—getting people in to see their doctor long before they were in a crisis. So in Memphis, a city where faith remains a powerful force and more than 60 percent of the population has ties to a religious group, they turned to churches for help. It started small, with a group of about a dozen pastors at churches near Methodist South hospital, in the city’s Whitehaven neighborhood. Those pastors recruited church members to serve as liaisons to the hospital, while the hospital assigned staff to work with churches. That small pilot, first called the Church Health Network, began in 2004.

Two years later, Methodist CEO and president Gary Shorb, along with Rev. Gary Gunderson, the former senior vice president for Methodist’s faith and health division, decided to expand the project system wide. That was the only way to make a significant impact on health outcomes, said Baker. “The thought was that it can’t be a pilot, it can’t be a research project—it really has to be broad reaching,” he said.

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Boston Bombings Bring Chaplains into New Ground

Hospital emergency room, muss / Shutterstock.com
Hospital emergency room, muss / Shutterstock.com

Two days after the Boston Marathon bombings, Boston Medical Center chaplain Sister Maryanne Ruzzo was checking on staffers who’d been caring for the injured when she received a page. A bombing victim wanted to see her.

The bedside was fraught with worry. A woman in her 30s had lost a leg to amputation as surgeons deemed it unsalvageable. Still suffering multiple injuries, she was now heading into surgery again, knowing she might wake up with no legs at all.

Ruzzo stood among the woman’s parents and siblings and did what she does best: listen. She heard their fears, including concern for the woman’s husband, who was being treated at a different hospital and who also might lose a leg to amputation. Then she prayed.

“Other people might not want to feel the pain and say, ‘Oh, it’s going to be fine,’” said Ruzzo, the Archdiocese of Boston’s coordinator of Catholic services at BMC. “We just try to be present and listen to them. … I prayed for the surgeons and the nurses.”

In a week when Boston hospitals cared for more than 170 bomb victims, staff chaplains were suddenly in great demand. They moved calmly from emergency departments to waiting rooms and employee lounges, offering a compassionate ear and much-needed comfort to anxious patients, family members and staffers.

Citing Religion, Some Health Workers Refuse Flu Shots

 Marlon Lopez / Shutterstock.com
Syringe preparation by a female doctor. Marlon Lopez / Shutterstock.com

Unlike patients who have a choice about getting the flu shot, many health care workers didn’t have a say this year.

For the first time in Rhode Island, hospital and nursing home workers were told to roll up their sleeves, and hundreds of hospitals in other states have similar policies.

“No one likes to be coerced, and there were some people who objected,” says Virginia Burke, CEO of the Rhode Island Health Care Association, which provides skilled nurses and rehabilitation workers to the state’s nursing homes. “My fear when the mandate came out was we’d lose workforce. To my delight, that hasn’t happened.”

But more than 1,000 workers filed a petition to oppose the directive.

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