Imagine having a healthcare team partner who wants to bring compassion to care and doesn’t want to be paid. Who wants to improve the health of the community and whose efforts also help reduce the costs of care. Welcome to the evolving world of faith and community partnerships.
Faith and community partnerships have been effective in reaching individuals in underserved communities by relying on the strong infrastructure of congregations and community activists. As trusted advocates, faith and community leaders bring messages about healthy living, wellness, and preventive care, and help fight chronic illness and conditions that diminish quality of life.
By focusing on the unique needs of their communities, faith leaders aim to improve health and spiritual well-being. By partnering with these leaders, health care providers can expand access to care and better understand what approaches to maintaining health are working within local communities. Getting results means reducing healthcare costs.
The idea of partnering with faith and community leaders is not new but is evolving into novel programs of community support. Clergy and lay members of faith communities can debunk myths about health care, taboos, and practices that may challenge traditional beliefs. They provide a community of support that is not just spiritual but practical, offering health care screenings, education, and services ranging from meals, to rides, to companionship, to prayer. Their role is not about imposing religion, but rather sharing a passion for improving health by ministering to the spiritual dimension of well-being.
One of the groups that is changing the equation for delivering care to underserved communities is Stakeholder Health, a learning collaborative of over three dozen health systems and organizations dedicated to attacking the underlying causes of poor health. Through community partnerships, organizations are promoting fundamental changes that will move care from hospitals focused on treating illness to communities focused on keeping people well. The ultimate goal is to improve the health of individuals and communities, which in turn creates significant savings and better quality of life. (http://stakeholderhealth.org/)
Emerging partnerships bring nurses together with community lay and faith leaders. At Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, community congregations are adopting nursing units in an effort to provide care and comfort to patients both in and outside the hospital. In return, nurses and chaplains also provide care, comfort, and guidance to families and congregational volunteers. (http://www.faithhealthnc.org/connecting-nursing-units-and-faith-communities/) At New York Presbyterian’s Ambulatory Care Community Network, the Community Health Nursing-Faith Based Partnership Program brings together nurses and faith leaders to impact the health of residents in Harlem by focusing on health screenings, education, promotion of healthy behaviors, and improving access to healthcare services. (http://nyp.org/services/acn_outreach_faith_based.html) These are just a few examples of nurses being active stakeholders in leading change and advancing health, the imperative of the Future of Nursing Report issued by the Institute of Medicine in 2010.
National attention is focused on the importance of enlarging the array of forces that can improve health. The US Department of Health and Human Services Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is one of a dozen federal agency offices or centers working with the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Its programs are designed to help both faith-based and secular community organizations make an impact on health by leveraging government resources. Recent activities include dissemination of information about programs of the Affordable Care Act that can help the needy in your community, partnering with the First Lady’s Let’s Move! Initiative to fight childhood obesity, and supporting the President’s Fatherhood initiative to promote the importance of responsible fatherhood. (http://www.hhs.gov/partnerships/index.html)
The Center for Promoting Collaboration between Faith-based Organizations and Health Care Organizations to Eliminate Disparity provides resources and connections to build partnerships. It was developed by Bronx Health REACH Coalition, which for many years has been working to eliminate health disparities, particularly in African American and Latino communities in the southwest Bronx. Through its education, outreach, and diverse partnerships, the Coalition is influencing health policy to make health equality a reality. (http://www.nationalfaithandhealth.org/about-us/
Nurses are taking the lead in the workplace, community, and in congregations, advancing faith and community approaches to help transform the healthcare system to one that is creating healthy populations. Bringing together human and fiscal resources to help people take control of their health and empower their communities means new expansive partnerships. We used to treat spirituality and religion as only personal preferences. Today we recognize the value that comes with engaging our larger communities, both faith based and secular, in healing our bodies, minds, and spirits, and improving the world that surrounds us.
Pamela F. Cipriano, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN