Methodist Le Bonheur Embraces Spiritual Health along with Physical Health

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Sandra-Bailey-thumbSandra Bailey, Vice President of Senior Services, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare

As the healthcare landscape changes, hospitals are focusing more on population management and initiatives to keep patients out of overly crowded emergency rooms. One healthcare system in Memphis, Tenn., is addressing the health disparities of one of its lowest-income sectors by building relationships in that community at the individual level.

Growth of outreach

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare is an eight-hospital system with a strong faith-based foundation that influences all aspects of care. The system has a Center of Excellence in Faith and Health, which includes the Congregational Health Network (CHN), a covenant between Methodist hospitals, community organizations, and nearly 500 congregations to help patients navigate between healthcare facilities and home.

About two years ago, the CHN began a hotspotting process to identify geographic areas most in need within its market. It alighted upon the 38109 zip code, which had a disproportionate number of cancer diagnoses and few healthcare offerings.

Sandra Bailey, vice president of senior services, oversees transitions of care for the system and the extended-care hospital and began heading up an outreach initiative to this zip code. She and her team established Wellness Wednesdays, a monthly screening and educational program held at a local community center.

“For Wellness Wednesdays, we have volunteers, vendors such as insurers, and community providers come out to provide information,” Bailey said. “One of our system hospitals sponsors the event each month with a specific educational theme such as oral health, diabetes, or nutrition. We offer blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose screenings, as well as body mass index. This monthly screening is a major part of many patients’ health-maintenance program.”

With education being a large part of Wellness Wednesdays, the sponsoring organizations will bring in subject-matter experts and nurses to share information on that month’s topic. Visitors, many of whom are uninsured or underinsured, can learn about the Affordable Care Act and coverage options. The events also serve as a clearinghouse to uncover patient needs, aid them in attaining access to resources, and connect them with a primary-care provider.

Bailey said about 100 patients come every month with many repeat visitors. The program started with a grant from Cigna and partnered with eight congregations within the zip code. Methodist gave about $1,000 to pastors of the partnered churches so the churches can offer to pay for patients’ medications or assist them with transportation to physician visits.

The program partners with numerous denominations, including Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Hindu faiths.

Bailey said she is already seeing some patients who were being admitted to the hospital every 10 days now coming every 30 days and regularly receiving primary care.

Building relationships based on trust

Building upon the community response to Wellness Wednesdays, Methodist has added the Familiar Faces program, which uses a community health navigator and a faith community nurse to assist patients with more support. The nurse is in the community and often conducts home visits to determine patients’ needs, makes referrals to the appropriate agencies, and even drives patients to an initial primary-care visit. Her goal is to empower patients to accept responsibility for and manage their own health.

The navigator is based in the community and approaches patients in the emergency room to ascertain their needs and uncover why they have repeat visits to the emergency room. For many patients, they have stopped taking their medications because they can’t afford food and prescriptions. The health navigator will connect the patient to a food bank or other community resource to help them meet their personal and social needs.

“After only a few months, we have already begun to see decreases in emergency-room visits, a decrease in hospitalizations, and are seeing patients believe in themselves again,” Bailey said. “I had a patient call me and say he can’t remember when someone put so much personal interest in him who didn’t know him. We have the resources to help people, so why shouldn’t we?”

Expanding the program

Bailey credits the success of the program to the compassion and dedication of the volunteers and frontline staff who build the relationships with the patients. They truly care about the wellbeing of the people they’re helping.

She hopes to obtain philanthropic support or shared-savings investments through insurance companies to make the program sustainable.

“The better the data, the more interest we will have, and I hope other healthcare organizations would adopt something similar,” she said. “I think this type of outreach is the future of healthcare. When you can help individuals help themselves, you’re really promoting health and wellness. Healing is not just about getting people the right medicine at the right time. It’s helping them emotionally, spiritually, and mentally to deal with the situation at hand and learn the steps to deal with it better.”

-by Patricia Chaney

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