Bridging the gap between healthcare and faith

In order to improve the health and wellness of a community, we must find a way to bridge the gap between healthcare and faith. To that end, Baylor Scott & White Health’s Faith Community Health program leverages the power of support and faith to enhance the lives of at-risk individuals.

The program pairs volunteers from area churches with vulnerable patients who have been referred by healthcare professionals. The goal is to partner each volunteer with an individual who could benefit from extra support, perhaps struggles with loneliness and needs assistance connecting to resources. An additional part of the program is to support faith communities in developing health ministries to help improve the health of their entire community.

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The goal is to partner each volunteer with an individual who could benefit from extra support, perhaps struggles with loneliness and needs assistance connecting to resources.

Faith Community Health targets vulnerable patients who are more likely to use the emergency department for healthcare that is more appropriately delivered in a doctor’s office. Many of those patients do not have transportation, speak little English or are medically illiterate. Other program patients live alone or are recovering from a debilitating condition such as stroke, cancer or substance abuse. On average, patients are 74 years old.

Program caregivers visit patients for one hour a week. They steer their clients to the right location for healthcare, teach them how to recognize problematic symptoms early and help them maximize the value of doctor’s appointments. Caregivers also help connect patients with resources such as transportation, groceries and pharmacy access. If they do not have a medical home for primary care, that is arranged.

The program operates on four basic principles:

  • Right door: Providing and educating patients at the most appropriate location
  • Right time: Educating and equipping individuals to help them recognize symptoms early
  • Ready to be treated: Helping people prepare to share with their healthcare provider concerning symptoms, medications and home remedies
  • Reassured: Treating people with compassionate care, assuring them they are not alone

Faith Community Health began at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Hillcrest in 2014. It saved $103,000 in healthcare costs in its first year and has grown more than tenfold since. The program has trained more than 450 volunteer caregivers in 10 cities, with significant cost savings and health results. Patients who are paired with caregivers are 82 percent less likely to go to the hospital emergency room for care and 35 percent less likely to be hospitalized.

System program manager Donna Stauber, Ph.D., characterizes Faith Community Health as “a ministry of presence.”

“Explore."

“We give patients hope,” she said. “They realize someone is going to show up. This changes the patient’s perspective on life. Isolation and loneliness can kill people.”

Stauber said the program seeks to build a bridge of trust for patients who may feel skeptical or anxious about healthcare.

“There appears to be lack of trust in healthcare, but most people trust faith communities,” Donna said. “We help them trust healthcare and walk beside them. We may go to doctor appointment with them. Or if they later say they didn’t understand what the doctor said or were afraid to ask the doctor a question, we’ll say ‘Let’s call the doctor right now and get an answer to that question.’”

Related: The power of healing through pastoral care

Stauber said there is “something magical” about the third one-hour meeting. Patients begin to open up about their needs, fears and concerns. Beyond the physical, the program fulfills a need that is often hard to address with healthcare alone.

“We help them trust healthcare and walk beside them.”

“There are those who are desperately in need, who are unhealthy and living in poverty,” she said. “And there are people who have resources that can help them. They often don’t know how to find each other despite using media and word of mouth.”  

For those people, the Faith Community Health program bridges that gap, helping them gain access to the resources and compassionate support they need to live a healthy life.

Learn more about the Faith Community Health program.

About the author

Steve Jacob
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Steve is a senior marketing and public relations consultant for Baylor Scott & White Health. He spent nearly four decades in newspaper and magazine editorial and business management and is the author of two books on healthcare reform. He was also the founding editor of D Magazine's D Healthcare Daily.

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Bridging the gap between healthcare and faith