By Tom Peterson
The article “The North Carolina Way: emerging healthcare system and faith community partnership” by Teresa Cutts and Gary Gunderson was recently published in Taylor & Francis in Development in Practice.
The article notes that U.S. healthcare policy emphasizes partnerships between healthcare systems and community organizations in order to “decrease costs and readmissions, particularly for underserved populations.”
Typically, these partnerships are ‘hospital-centric,’ focused on following in-house clinical costs into the community. Two contrasting large-scale community system models show results from development practices, integrating faith community partnerships that affect healthcare utilization. This ‘community to hospital’ focus is key to several such initiatives in the US. This article describes local implementation efforts in North Carolina, also known as ‘The North Carolina Way’ – and tests assumptions on implementation practices for creating robust faith-community and healthcare partnerships.
The article reports on the development to of a state-wide “faith-community partnership” in North Carolina, known as the NC Way that grew out of earlier learnings of the Congregation Health Network (CHN), also known as the “Memphis model.” These case studies are familiar to the authors, as both Cutts and Gunderson were instrumental in the development of each. Each had key roles in developing the “community engagement, partnerships and caregiving efforts” between Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare system and, now, 604 congregations in the Memphis area.
Over 20,000 enrolled congregants are flagged by the healthcare system’s electronic medical record whenever admitted to the hospital. A hospital-employed ‘navigator’ visits the patient to determine patient social and spiritual (nonmedical) needs and then works with a church liaison to arrange post-discharge services and facilitate transition. Additionally, the CHN has trained over 4,000 congregational and community laypeople through 14-hour capacity development workshops designed to improve the ability of community caregiving.
When Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center sought to bring a similar model to North Carolina, the challenge became how do you do that in a much larger area than metro Memphis? The emerging answer includes a whole host of roles: fellows, liaisons, connectors, clergy who visit patients in the hospitals, and congregational volunteers. It also involves a number of foundations and other funding sources, such as denominations. Most uniquely, the NC Way involved a number of health systems across the state:
- Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) (Boone)
- Carolinas Healthcare, Blue Ridge (Morganton)
- CaroMont Health (Gastonia)
- McDowell Hospital (Marion)
- Randolph Hospital (Asheboro)
- Southeastern Regional Medical Center or SMRC (Lumberton)
- Wilkes Regional Medical Center (North Wilkesboro)
- Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center (Forsyth County implementation area)
The article discusses the various ways each of these is engaging congregations in their partnerships to better serve the vulnerable people in their areas. “All sites have at least one part-time Connector, paid for by the [Kate B. Reynolds] grant, pipelined through WFBMC and all but two… received [The Duke Endowment] grant funds for local community engagement and evaluation efforts from 2014-2016,” says the report. It concludes that:
The North Carolina Way, if sustained, reflects both working relationships with clinical relevance to the social drivers of health and healing, and partnerships that are credible to the local social religious reality, whether urban or rural – real work connected in real partnerships.