February 15, 2016

BALTIMORE —A new program aims to create more coordinated health care for Marylanders by getting faith communities involved.

For decades, churches and faith communities have helped their congregations in times of need, especially when one is admitted to a hospital. But knowing that isn’t always easy.

“This has been a tremendous frustration for the faith communities, particularly in recent years. It’s been more and more difficult for pastors, like myself, to know who’s in the hospital, what hospital they’re in, when they get out of the hospital, what the care plan is,” said the Rev. John Deckenback, with the United Church of Christ.

A new pilot program aims to change that. The Maryland Faith Community Health Network brings together Sinai, Northwest and Carroll hospitals with those faith leaders. The hospitals will alert the pastor when someone from the church is admitted. The patient can decide whether to enroll and what information he or she wants released.

“Completely voluntary; the congregations can opt in or out. The hospitals can opt in or out. Nobody’s required to do anything,” said Vinny DeMarco, with the Maryland Citizen’s Health Initiative.

The congregations have volunteers who undergo special training to keep in touch with the patient’s caregivers in the hospital and follow up once they go home. They can do things like take care of pets, deliver meals to patients or drive them to follow up doctor appointments.

“Our hope is to cut down on rebounding back into the hospital if people have provided for them what they need when they come home so they can actually heal. It cuts down on the rebounding people being readmitted to the hospital; that cuts down on the cost of health care, which helps the whole community,” said Pastor Shari McCourt, with the Westminster United Methodist Church.

Pastors said it fills a big void in the health care system and will create overall better care for the patient. They call it a win-win.

“We’re all about health and healing and the care of people and that’s what the church is all about,” McCourt said.

The pilot program will run for two years. The hope is it will be so successful other hospitals and faith organizations around the state will join in.

Last modified: February 16, 2016