(Rev. William Gentry, left, and the Care Connections Transportation Ministry under Compassion for U Congregational Wellness Network.)
By Melanie Raskin
Rev. Dean Carter, Coordinator of the Department of Pastoral Care, and a small interdisciplinary team were doing something amazing. They were working together to change how palliative care was done at Southeastern Health in Robeson County. They found that, given a choice, patients with serious illnesses would choose more aggressive treatments earlier in the disease process and less aggressive measures later. By applying holistic principles in the ICU and throughout the hospital, and changing the focus from prescriptions to people, the health care system saved over $7 million, ten times more than anticipated. The combination of an innovative and rewarding interdisciplinary experience with a more patient-centered approach made becoming a FaithHealthNC program site the next logical step for the healthcare system.
Wellness happens best in community
Now Compassion for U Congregational Wellness Network, with Carter (at left) as its coordinator, has a new calling. Instead of focusing on the leading causes of death, it’s now focusing on the leading causes of life.
“We’re looking at the disease trajectory time line, before hospice is introduced, to see where we can meet the needs of patients with chronic illness or lifestyle wellness issues,” he explains. “We’re trying to change the disease trajectory, and lengthen and add quality to life. We all would rather have an individual begin seeking wellness long before the need of critical care or end of life. Wellness happens best in community.
Robeson County, one of the few majority minority counties in the nation, is consistently ranked at or near the bottom of NC counties in total health outcomes, including the rates of diabetes, heart disease and chronic kidney disease. Add to the health challenge the recent heavy rains and flooding of Hurricane Matthew that shut down businesses, damaged churches and displaced homeowners. It’s a community that time and time again, takes it on the chin. And, according to Carter, time and time again, it’s a county that rises.
Sowing the Seeds of Communal Wellness
“To know our community and culture is to witness a gritty toughness and strength to adapt and survive,” Carter says. “Though strained at times, our residents embody a resiliency that works across racial, gender and denominational lines.” It’s a community ripe for The NC Way. And it’s succeeding.
So far, 16 churches have signed a covenant to network with Compassion for U and 13 Covenant Agency Partners have committed to doing church and community wellness education and outreach, including revolving six-month health screenings and events at area churches. Compassion for U set a state record for first-time events with its NC MedAssist Over-the-Counter Medication Giveaway, with 1,741 people receiving approximately $100 per person in OTC medicines. More than 300 volunteers helped at the one-day event. “The old model is to build a program inside the doors of the hospital and say, come in,” Carter muses. “The new model is to ask people if we can come out and enter through their doors, can we walk the street with them and learn what they need and see what could be.”
Compassion for U is sowing the seed bed of communal wellness in Robeson County and carefully nurturing it with an energized faith community. “It has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life to be in collaboration with passionate others who seek to apply these principles, while also having the freedom to apply them in a neighborhood that I have served as a chaplain for 22 years.”