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Editorial: Faith, health care partnership makes sense

Carroll County Times
May 7, 2016

When someone in our community falls ill, we often hear stories of others rallying to find ways to support the individual and their family. These outreach efforts are often supported and organized by the individual’s church.

The Maryland Faith Community Health Network, launched earlier this year in conjunction with LifeBridge Health centers such as Carroll Hospital, takes this a step further, seeking to keep people from going back to the hospital by providing help at home.

We think this is a pretty innovative partnership and one that makes sense. After all, health care providers and religious communities tend to have a common mission of taking care of the sick and keeping people healthier for longer.

Here’s how it works: When a member of a network congregation goes to a hospital — either Carroll or another LifeBridge center, such as Northwest Hospital in Randallstown or Sinai Hospital in Baltimore — staff there will notify a liaison at that individual’s congregation, with the patient’s permission, of course.

LifeBridge hospitals in Maryland are piloting the program for two years, with the hope of expanding it to more hospitals and congregations across the state, modeled after a similar program in Memphis, Tennessee, known as the Congregational Health Network that’s been in place since 2006.

More than 600 congregations are now part of that network there, where Methodist Le Bonheur Hospital staff have found “tremendous improvement in patient health outcomes,” and a decrease in the amount of time patients involved are spending in hospitals. It has also reduced the amount individual patients and the health care system spend on members on the network, according to a factsheet from the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, the nonprofit behind the plan to bring this kind of network to the state.

Already, 52 area congregations have signed on to be part of the network with the three LifeBridge health centers, including 10 from Carroll County. We have to imagine that once word gets out, more Carroll churches and congregations will want to be part of this initiative.

Westminster United Methodist Church is one of the 10 already involved, and the Rev. Shari McCourt shared with the county commissioners last week that the network will also help solve problems created by patient privacy laws in recent years of getting help to sick parishioners.

McCourt also said her congregation is ready to provide care to beyond those who are members of the church, if the patient is open to it. “It’s not just taking care of our congregants,” she said. “It’s taking care of our community.”

We agree, and we think the Maryland Faith Community Health Network could be a game changer in the expensive and complicated world of health care. And we’re glad to see Carroll Hospital and several Carroll congregations at the leading edge of it.

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