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In a foundational story in the Christian faith, Jesus describes a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep in the field to go in search of one that is lost.
This is a story that could be seen as a model for the Indiana University Health Congregational Care Network (CCN) — a multi-faith program supported through grants and philanthropic dollars, including a three-year, $1.37 million investment from IU Health.
The program connects specially trained volunteers, called “companions,” from faith communities in Marion and Monroe counties with IU Health patients who are high utilizers of care and need extra support when they are discharged to homes or care facilities. Companions receive four weeks of training that helps them understand everything from HIPAA laws to making medical referrals. Their assistance also helps patients ease back into their normal, at-home routines — and they even work with patients to offer resources and solve problems. In many ways, the companions serve as mentors to IU Health patients in need.
In 2021, the network provided companionship to more than 300 patients discharged to their homes — many of which lived alone or in long-term care facilities. CCN helped to reduce inpatient re-admissions among these patients by 64% and reduce emergency department visits by 24%.
Ivan Douglas Hicks, PhD, is the pastor of First Baptist Church North Indianapolis — a church that helped pilot the CCN program. According to Dr. Hicks, CCN allows members of his congregation do what they are called to do: care for their community.
Located in an economically challenged neighborhood and drawing membership from a wide geographic area, First Baptist provides a range of programs to meet the needs of neighbors. “We are a social service hub, and in many ways, ‘ground zero’ for community help,” Dr. Hicks said.
Nichole Wilson, IU Health vice president of Community Health Operations, knows that ground zero well: She grew up in the area and has watched it evolve over the years, thanks to the support of churches like First Baptist and programs like CCN.
“The Congregational Care Network embodies community health,” said Wilson. “It reduces social isolation — something that greatly contributes to poor health and behavioral health. IU Health hopes to deepen our partnership with churches and neighborhoods to establish even more place-based solutions that will impact the health of the community.”
Wilson also noted that the program could not exist without philanthropic support. Like other community health programs, CCN doesn’t charge fees, nor does it collect any revenue from participants. This means philanthropy supports everything the program does — such as training volunteers, providing resources to participating congregations, recruiting new faith communities and more.
Wilson is inspired to think of what the program could become with more support. “There is great opportunity for expansion,” she said. “The program is intended to include faith communities from all faith traditions.”
Meanwhile, the members of First Baptist Church North Indianapolis will continue to support the lost and lonely in their neighborhood – an act of service that Dr. Hicks says benefits the “shepherds” as much as the individual “sheep” they seek to help. “Our parishioners are blessed to be a blessing.”
If you’d like to learn how you can support community initiatives like the Congregational Care Network, contact IU Health Foundation Development Officer Veronica Onofrey at 317.963.9032.