Thrive by IU Health

January 27, 2023

This ‘shining star’ is a social and spiritual safety net for the community

This ‘shining star’ is a social and spiritual safety net for the community

A neighborhood partnership is focused on creating a healthier Indiana.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, TJ Banes,

There are stories of loneliness and sadness and there are stories of friendship and hope. For more than two years now, IU Health has partnered with churches throughout Indianapolis and Southern Indiana to fulfill a need that extends beyond traditional medicine.

This week, members of those churches were recognized for their efforts in providing compassionate care.

The Congregational Care Network was initially formed as a response to those in the community who were cut off from their support systems due to COVID-19. From there, the initiative grew to include more than 20 congregations of various denominations.

The idea was to train parish volunteers who would reach out to IU patients when they returned home.

“One of the missions of IU Health is to create a healthier state and we can’t do that alone,” said Shadreck Kamwendo, Director of the Congregational Care Network. Last year, 392 neighbors were served by various congregations.

“Your selfless commitment to those neighbors is one of the highest virtues I can imagine. During a pandemic you have given hours of your selfless time to those in need,” said Dennis Murphy, CEO & President of IU Health. He added that early evidence shows neighbors involved in a support network have improved health. “We are determined to address the non-medical factors that impact overall health - including loneliness and the disparities it brings,” said Murphy, through a video address.

One volunteer, Stephanie Baker, a member of First Baptist North Indianapolis described her involvement as “joy that goes straight to your heart.”

She shared stories of a neighbor who was robbed of her last $20 while walking her dog, and another neighbor who was making a meal of beans and wieners to get by until pay day. She told of another special friend who needed a battery changed on a smoke detector, and another one who wanted to study the bible.

Suzie Baker, a volunteer with Second Presbyterian Church, talked about how the Congregational Care Network expands her church’s services. “We have a food bank and a lot of outreach programs and now we have IU Health bringing us individuals who are in isolation.” Many of these individuals do not attend a church so they might otherwise not connect with a parishioner.

The volunteers talked about various challenges that go beyond typical medical needs - transportation, food insecurity, violence, inadequate housing. Through regular one-on-one contact by phone or in person, they get a clearer picture of those specific needs.

“One of the questions clinicians ask our patients is, ‘what matters most to you today,’” said Dr. Leah Gunning Francis, Senior Vice President and Chief Missions & Values Officer of IU Health. “We want our patients to be seen and heard. In asking that question, it helps our clinicians get to the heart of their concerns beyond what is visible to the eye. It’s a way of helping them chart a pathway filled with hope,” said Gunning Francis. “I see the Congregational Health Network as connecting our neighbors with vital resources and showing them that someone cares for them. That makes the Congregational Care Network a shining star at IU Health.”