Thrive by IU Health

April 20, 2021

Congregations connect with patients for ongoing care

Through collaboration with IU Health and faith-based communities, a Congregation Care Network reaches out to patients in their homes.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

For nearly 25 years, Lora Webb has suffered from back pain. She’s had a number of procedures and has faced the challenges – mostly on her own. She’s also had thyroid surgery – a result from Grave’s disease – an immune system disorder resulting in the overproduction of thyroid hormones. She also struggles with depression and anxiety.

“Some days are just too much. It’s overwhelming,” said Webb, 50. Her 18-year-old son lives with her. They lost his dad and both of her parents in a number of years. “Our lives have been turned upside down and then the pandemic hit,” said Webb.

She’s not unlike many others who are isolated and need someone to check in on her. That’s where the IU Health Congregation Care Network comes in. The program is a bridge to hospital care and home.

At last count, the program had 72 connections – 12 faith-based congregations, (10 in Marion County and two in Monroe County), with 67 active connections, 32 completed connections and 17 waiting placement. That means volunteers from various congregations are paired up with an IU Health patient that is at home.

“When I had the opportunity to come to IU Health to work with population health we talked about the needs of the patients outside the hospital. They go home to get well but if they don’t have the quality of life – playing with grandkids, getting proper food, paying utilities – then they won’t heal as well as they should,” said Shadreck Kamwendo, Manager of the Congregation Care Network.

That’s where the idea for the Congregation Care Network began – an extended outreach in the community.

Working as a team that includes chaplains, social workers, and other hospital caregivers, the network identifies patients who may benefit from the companionship. Once a patients consent, they are matched with a congregation and a volunteer – usually in close proximity to their home – who is specifically trained for the program. They don’t need to be a member of the congregation. The faith-based congregations represent diverse beliefs and focus on inclusivity, said Kamwendo.

“This is a holistic approach to patient care. It’s a focus on the patient’s social needs,” said Kamwendo. We are seeing patients coming to the ED or inpatient care presenting signs that they are isolated and COVID has exacerbated that,” said Kamwendo. He estimates that one in five patients who visit a primary care physician are living in isolation. With pandemic precautions in place, the companions and the patients have primarily focused on weekly contact, by phone, Face time, and Zoom. The volunteers may serve as a listening ear or offer additional resources such as contacts with social service agencies, or stipends for food, transportation or other necessities.

“The social services in the acute hospital setting do a wonderful job while a patient is in the hospital but we don’t have the bandwidth to provide social services when a patient leaves the hospital. That’s where empowering congregations helps fill that gap,” said IU Health Dr. Richard Bernhardt, Medical Director Quality Population Health. “We rarely have social care in primary care offices, but they do have their religious institutions. Historically, the role of the church and religious organizations has always been part of health care. It’s a repetitive theme over history but a new way of approaching it. We’ve already seen the benefits for some of our most vulnerable patients,” said Bernhardt.

Webb is one example.

She was matched with Wanda Scisney, a volunteer with First Baptist Church North. She calls Webb once or twice a week. They talk about Webb’s son, the loss of family members, and how their lives have changed during a pandemic.

“Wanda told me about the church food pantry and she also had someone deliver food boxes. She helped connect me with resources like my son’s social security survivor check. She has been such a positive person in my life,” said Webb.

And that’s not all. Scisney has also benefited from the companionship.

“When I first signed up to volunteer for the program I thought it was a great idea,” said Scisney. “Now I’ve learned it’s been as beneficial to me as it is to my client.”