A partnership with nearly 400 local churches is helping the seven-hospital Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare System, based in Memphis, Tenn., return hospitalized patients to their communities with the support they need to manage such chronic conditions as congestive heart failure.
Preliminary research into the Congregational Health Network shows a 20% decrease in readmissions by participating patients, compared with matched controls, says Teresa Cutts, PhD, director of research for innovation for Methodist's Center of Excellence in Faith & Health.
But the program is more than just "outreach" from the health system to the churches, she adds. It also is "in-reach" from community partners to the health system and a true collaboration. "The clergy have a covenant; they have deep ownership of this network," she says.
Trained volunteer liaisons at each participating church are the bridge to the health system. Patients who are members of the network and who opt in at admission are connected to liaisons or other church volunteers, who then visit patients in the hospital and at their homes following discharge. Hospital-employed community care workers (called navigators) help coordinate these connections, supported by Methodist's electronic health record (EHR).
The network has 12,000 registered members. Approximately 1,100 volunteers have received training in such subjects as hospital visitation, hands-on aftercare, and mental health first aid. Larger goals, Dr. Cutts says, include pushing this support further upstream into preventive care, documenting outcomes, and incorporating more clinical issues into the volunteer training.
"We think it's time, and will really empower people," she says.
In September, health system representatives visited the White House to share the coalition's success story. For more information, contact Cutts at email@example.com.