Congregational Health Alliance targets community needs through churches

Updated: Apr. 16, 2021 at 9:35 AM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - It’s a partnership that comes at a key time for healthcare. The pandemic, coupled with a greater need for doctors in some parts of Region 8, has found St. Bernards Healthcare reaching out to communities through The Congregational Health Alliance.

“The Congregational Health Alliance is a community outreach program of St. Bernard’s Healthcare to faith-based organizations in our area,” Karan Summitt, a Navigator with the Congregational Health Alliance said. “And so it’s a very specific program we target with those institutions to look at how what the health care needs of their participants might be, we go to them. We offer a wide variety of things that we can do and all of these things are housed in our community benefits department, so we can do these things without cost to the faith-based community.”

Summitt is a health educator who works with community churches to provide support and training for church personnel. She spoke with me about “Bridging the Great Health Divide,” a crisis showing up as more and more rural parts of Region 8 are struggling to get enough healthcare professionals like doctors and nurses to meet their needs.

“When you think about a faith-based organization, a church home, so to speak, that’s a place where people are very comfortable,” Summitt said. “They have facilities that are usually available for meetings and they’re happy to share those facilities. And so when we can go to the people in a place where they’re comfortable in a trusted environment. We can talk with them about healthcare issues. One of the things that we do with churches is bring in seminars or maybe just lunch presentations for a senior meeting about specific healthcare issues, but we also work with those congregations when they have an individual member who is struggling to get the health care they need, whether that’s being able to afford their medications, whether it’s transportation to doctor’s offices, whether it might be some more resources or some issue that the patient has dementia or the caregivers are looking for some advanced care for that patient we try to navigate. That’s my role. I’m a navigator for those members in those congregations who are needing some help, but just don’t know where to turn.”

One example of education that is brought alongside access to congregations is coming up.

A child abuse prevention initiative known as “Blue Sunday” is happening Sunday, April 25. The Congregational Health Alliance uses its relationship with churches to make them aware of statistics that are staggering. There are more than 9,000 substantiated cases of childhood physical or sexual abuse in Arkansas every year.

“Blue Sunday is a National Day of Prayer in the United States. it’s been observed for several years, though not so much in our area,” Summitt said. “The Blue Sunday is a day of prayer for neglected and abused children and those people who rescue them. So we just brought awareness of this day to the congregations that we work with, asking them to participate in having a special prayer that day, and perhaps even to acknowledge their members who are employed or who are volunteering, in that area, like how foster parents and parents, who adopt children from the foster care system. May they’re mandated reporters, and of course, obviously those people on the frontlines are law enforcement are DHS employees who work with children. It’s just a great opportunity for churches to think about that need that we have in our country, and take a few minutes of time to let those folks in their congregation know that they are so appreciative of the work they’re doing.”

There are other programs planned, too.

“We’re going to do a stroke seminar in with one of our congregations,” Summitt explained. “We’re looking so forward to that. It has been a rough year. But, we were able to keep our churches aware of some of the CDC guidelines regarding COVID protocol in congregations, we were able to keep them updated on the vaccination clinics and who would be eligible. So there’s been some things we could do, even though we weren’t able to do as much as we’ve been doing previous to last March of 2020.”

“All About a Stroke,” a free community seminar, will happen on Saturday, May 1 from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. at New St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church located at 308 North Main Street. A light lunch will be provided. No RSVP is needed.

“My phone is 870-207-7487 There’s a direct line to my office,” Summitt said.

She welcomes the opportunity to work with more faith-based organizations.

The Congregational Health Alliance addresses two distinct areas of health: prevention and follow-up care. By doing this, Summitt believes the program has the potential to be extremely successful as a tool to promote better preventative care, faster healing, fewer hospital admissions, and monetary savings for both the patient and the hospital.

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