Faith Health Initiative
Contact: Tammy G. Love
VP of Business Development
Phone: (336) 651-8116
By CHARLES S. WILLIAMS
Wilkes Journal-Patriot Staff
Wilkes Regional Medical Center (WRMC) is partnering with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center (WFBMC) in a new “faith-health” initiative to improve the health of patients who have been treated at the hospital here.
The goal of the program is to establish partnerships with congregations from area churches so that church members can support and assist primarily elderly patients during their hospital stay and recovery. That assistance includes making certain they are taking their medications as directed and that they have access to transportation and companionship when they return home.
The program here is patterned after the program that was developed by Dr. Gary Gunderson at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare in Memphis, Tenn. He is now the vice president of the Division of Faith and Health Ministries at WFBMC, where he is implementing the service in several of the counties served by the medical center.
“I worked on the Memphis model for seven years,” Gunderson said Thursday. “We wanted to work with churches before members of their congregations were our patients. We eventually were working with 500 congregations within a 90-minute driving distance from the hospital. We worked with all types and denominations of churches.”
Dr. Nelson Granade, the pastor of the North Wilkesboro First Baptist Church, is helping develop the foundation for the program here in Wilkes.
“My focus in this is working on the program as a ministry,” Dr. Granade said. “I believe that the church should be involved in helping the congregation members be healthy mentally, physically and spiritually. We’re just getting started here, however, and we’re not really off the ground yet.”
He added that Wake “doesn’t look at this as a proprietary project. The officials at Wake want to work with all denominations, and not just Baptist hospitals. The church has always been a part of the hospital, and faith and healing have always been an integral part of the Christian faith.”
He explained that, once the program is in place, “we will have people on committees who will walk along with people as they go through their hospital stay. If someone from our congregation is going to the hospital, we’ll go with them and visit them while they are there. We want them to know that they’re not alone or disconnected from the church.
“We’re interested in the health of our members,” Granade said. “We want them to lead the best lives they can, and it has been proven that this program improves the time before they are readmitted for care. But this, for us, is not just about improving the readmission statistics.”
Gunderson said that statistics compiled in Memphis showed that patients who were part of a congregation had much better outcomes following their hospital stay and had a lower cost for care while in the hospital. The average length before readmission was 420 days, or 40 percent longer, than those who were not part of a congregation.”
Gunderson said that the impact of the program in Memphis “was extraordinary. The hospital staff wasn’t doing anything differently. We just had a great community and good caregivers.”
He added, “the Wake staff brought me here to see if we could use the Memphis model in this area. We first went to Lexington. Then we decided to come to Wilkes. There’s already a CareNet counseling center here. But this is different because we are doing this in a hospital that is managed by what in some ways is a competitor of Wake Forest Baptist.”
WRMC is managed by Carolinas HealthCare Systems, based in Charlotte.
“Though we don’t own Wilkes Regional, we have many patients who come down 421 to this hospital once the care they need goes beyond what is available to Wilkes Regional,” Gunderson said.
“We have a stake in this, and have a lot to gain. We want to know that the caregivers in the community have all of the tools that they need to care for the people who are partially our patients.”
Gene Faile, the Wilkes Regional chief executive officer, said, “We’re excited about the opportunity to have our area ministers and congregations support Wilkes Regional in improving the health of our people here.
“We’re pleased that Wilkes Regional is one of the first hospitals involved with this program. It’s an exciting endeavor. The program was successful in Memphis, and we think it can be just as successful here.”
Most are elderly patients
Most of the patients are elderly, especially those who are alone.
“These churches are helping most of these people anyway,” said Gunderson. “We want to make certain that they get care.
‘”The primary reasons that these people have trouble after discharge are that they don’t understand how or when to take their medications, they can’t afford their medications, and social challenges that make it impossible for them to heal properly. They may not be able to take care of their dog, or they may not be able to get to their doctor’s office for an appointment. They may not have transportation for other needs.
“Maybe they have run out of food, or they have limited money and must choose between buying the food they need or their medications,” Gunderson said. “The church and the volunteers can be a tremendous help in these areas with just some minor coaching.”
Gunderson added, “We want to help with the individual’s physical health, mental health, spiritual health and social health. If you’re alone, that can create a health risk. We believe that you need to work on all four areas at the same time.
“When someone is released, it’s not always just a pill that will help with recovery. It takes a team to provide care in the hospital, and it also takes a team to provide care when the patient is released. We’re just trying to build that team. This is just smart medicine.”