Churches Team Up with Hospitals to Improve Congregants’ Health and Reduce Spending

Two mainstays of the Memphis community — the Methodist Le Bonheur hospital system and nearly 400 local churches — have teamed up for an innovative program that keeps church members healthy while reducing health-care costs. If not actually made in heaven, it’s a match that has significantly benefited all parties. Other health-care systems are taking note.

Methodist says 70 percent of its patients belong to churches. To help people get the care they need when they need it, the system assigns hospital staff, appropriately called “navigators,” to work with volunteer liaisons at area churches that have joined the health system’s Congregational Health Network. When a member of one of these congregations is admitted to the hospital, the navigator notifies the liaison. The liaison then plans a visit, if the member wishes, “so they have a support structure, not just the nurse and doctor,” says Valerie Murphy, the liaison for her small church of six families in Millington, a rural area north of Memphis.
When it comes time to discharge the patient, the liaison works with the navigator to make sure that the transition happens smoothly, connecting the patient with community services such as meals-on-wheels and transportation.
“It’s the social connections, the nitty-gritty practical stuff that makes a huge difference,” says Gary Gunderson, senior vice president for the health system. “Whether people understand how to take their medications, whether there’s food in the house.”
The health system compared the experiences and costs of 473 patients in the program with those of similar non-participating patients who received standard care from 2007 to 2009: The mortality rate for those in the network was 50 percent lower than for non-participating patients; their hospital readmission rates were 20 percent lower.
In the future, Methodist expects to reap savings by reducing the need for high-end specialized care and avoiding penalties for hospital readmission, says Teresa Cutts, Methodist’s director of research for innovation at its Center for Excellence for Faith and Health.
Source: Washington Post | Michelle Andrews

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