Medical professionals join forces with church congregations on project

(Source: KAIT-TV)
(Source: KAIT-TV)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - An area hospital is teaming up with local churches to get people healthy.

Navigator with the Congregational Health Alliance, Karan Summitt, said St. Bernards Healthcare has partnered with churches with one goal in mind... people's health.

"This is an outgrowth of a new program at St. Bernards," Summitt said. "It's called the Congregational Health Alliance. This is an exciting new program at St. Bernards. We're seeking to improve the health of our community by partnering with area churches. And we're doing that by taking our screening services, educational services and knowledge of resources to the church families. We're reaching a much greater group of people, a larger number of people. We're able to do that in an environment they find safe, comfortable and trustworthy."

The first screening kicked off early Wednesday morning at the Fisher Street United Methodist Church on Fisher Street in Jonesboro.

"We are very excited," Summitt said. "We are on the front end of this. We have several congregations already connected to the alliance. The steps are that we present to the congregation, this program. And then the leadership of this congregation believes it's good for that church family. And so, they connect and join the alliance. From there, a liaison, who is in the church family, is our contact. That liaison shares with me how we can best use those resources to benefit that church family. So, we have several churches already on board."

Summitt said plenty of people came out for the first health screening.

"This is our very first health screening," Summitt said. "We are very pleased with it. We've not only had members from Fisher United Methodist, here, but we've had other churches in the area that were invited and participated. Of course, churches can also use this as an outreach to the community. Just invite the folks that live around the congregation to come in and get a free health screening."

Summitt said they were doing basic screenings at the health event.

"People can come in and get a reading on their blood pressure," Summitt said. "They can get their weight, BMI, blood sugar numbers and their hematocrit. We can then follow up with them and address any issues that seem to be out of the normal range. But also, we're getting a good health history of the people who attend. And so, from that, we can look at the combined results and determine some of the health issues that a congregation may be dealing with. Perhaps a large group of the participants have high blood pressure. We can bring in a healthy blood pressure program and present that to the congregation. And of course, on the congregation side, it's very beneficial to help congregational members stay healthy because the work and the viability of the church family depends on having healthy members. So, it's good for the individual, but it's also good for the church family as a whole."

Summitt said they first started looking into this because of what was happening across the bridge.

"A similar program began like this," Summitt said. "About ten years ago at Methodist Healthcare Systems in Memphis, Tennessee. We had heard about it because it had such good results in impacting and reaching larger groups of people. And when you do that through the church family you have a built-in support group, you have facilities the church can make available to the healthcare system. So, it's things we've always been doing like screenings and health education. But it brings them to an environment where we meet the people where they are. And so, what we hope to do with this program is make our community healthier. Increase the health of the community by reducing readmissions by helping people come to the hospital at the right time by understanding preventative care or chronic disease management. And getting that at a place where they're comfortable learning about that."

Summitt said when you look at the information, it's alarming.

"If you look at national rates," Summitt said. "Our part of the country has some of the highest rates for blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and we have one of the shortest rates for longevity, the highest death rate. That can happen for two reasons. It can happen because people don't have enough. They don't have enough knowledge. They don't have enough resources or access to healthcare. But in our area, it also happens because people have too much. And so, their lifestyle may allow them to do things to include a not so healthy diet. They may have a desk job which pays well, but doesn't keep them moving and having the physical activity that they need. So, where ever you fall on the spectrum your daily behaviors. Your lifestyle behaviors impact your health. And they impact it in very serious ways. And learning how to practice a healthy lifestyle is what reduces the risk for all these things we've talked about. Even dementia and cancer rates are connected with those kinds of things. So, the knowledge is there. The resources are there. Using churches is a new way. This helps reach a greater group of people. A larger number of people."

Summitt said the goal is the health of everyone in the community.

This will not be the last stop they'll be making.

You can contact Summitt at the Department of Population Health at St. Bernards Healthcare at (870) 207-7488.

For more information about St. Bernards Healthcare, you can also click here.

Copyright 2018 KAIT. All rights reserved.