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“A big part of getting well happens outside the doors of IU Health.”
Shadreck Kamwendo, manager of the Congregational Care Network at IU Health, knows that to make Indiana one of the healthiest states in the nation, we need to address all of the social determinants of health, including community context and social isolation. He has seen how faith-based care can provide spiritual healing to patients even after their release, while strengthening communities.
To help reduce social isolation, IU Health is investing $1.37 million over three years to help faith congregations work with hospitals to care for those who are socially isolated and suffer health issues complicated by depression, anxiety, or loss.
The program gathers volunteers from congregations in Marion and Monroe counties, and matches them with IU Health patients who are isolated during their at-home recovery.
Jim Maslar is a volunteer “connector” from Little Flower Catholic Church. His previous experience in hospital chaplaincy made the Congregational Care Network a natural fit. When he saw an ad for volunteers in his parish bulletin, he knew that while some would call it coincidental, it was, in fact, providential.
After completing the four-week companionship training, which helps volunteers understand everything from HIPAA laws to making referrals, Maslar was connected with a patient, who has since become a friend. As Maslar says, “We get as much out of it as the patients.”
Tackling the problem of social isolation has become even more challenging in the wake of the pandemic. Kamwendo says, “COVID has exposed that people have been lonely. We are created to be in community with each other, but COVID has made it nearly impossible.”
Community is at the heart of the Congregational Care Network. Although the program is faith-based, it is open to all, regardless of religion or denomination. That, Kamwendo says, is very intentional, particularly as he looks to expand the program to other religions, including Islam and Judaism. “It reflects our community fabric,” he says. “We help all people. We have to reach out to all congregations, white, Black, Latinx and others to meet patient needs.”
None of that would be possible, Kamwendo says, without philanthropy. “We could not do this without the vision and support from the IU Health Foundation and the Community Impact Investment fund. Those grants enable us to engage congregations and provide stipends to meet patient needs.”
Funding also supports training for volunteers like Maslar, and regular meetings for congregational teams and network connector leaders. “IU Health set up a system that gave us all the tools and support we needed,” Maslar says. But more than that, “It speaks to what we’re called to do in helping our neighbors.”
Kamwendo agrees. “I’ve seen the work of these congregations, reaching out to people they didn’t know who lived across the street, helping them in their health journey. That is beautiful.”
If you’d like to learn more about the Congregational Care Network, are interested in volunteering as a connector, or would like to have your congregation added to the network, please call 317.963.5332.