The Maryland Faith Community Health Network is a two-year pilot program among LifeBridge Health, the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative and dozens of faith-based organizations that will work to improve the health of people in Maryland by creating a continuum of care for congregants during and after a hospital stay, as well as promote preventative health care resources.
Through the network and only with the congregant’s prior consent, faith leaders will be notified when someone is hospitalized, and trained volunteer ‘liaisons’ from the same congregation will work closely with hospital ‘navigators’ to coordinate support services available to patients, which could range from clergy visits and prayer to transportation, meals or even medical referrals.
Rabbi Jay Goldstein and Beth Israel Congregation in Owings Mills — one of two Jewish organizations participating in the pilot, the other is Temple Oheb Shalom, along with 30 congregations from Baltimore City and Baltimore and Carroll counties — has offered organized assistance for congregants for about 11 years through Shleimut, a program that enlists the support of clergy, a social worker and a nurse.
But often it takes time to find out when a congregant has been hospitalized, so Goldstein is “thrilled and excited to participate as one of the pilot congregations,” he said, because hospital navigators can “access information without the labyrinth of paperwork,” which can be an obstacle as can be HIPPA laws, which limit access to patient information. This is where prior consent comes in. Through using the network, patients retain complete control over what information can be shared with liaisons and clergy.
Neil Meltzer, president and CEO of LifeBridge Health, said in a written statement he is happy that three LifeBridge locations — Sinai, Northwest and Carroll hospitals — will anchor the pilot, and he looks forward “to explore how this innovative approach to enhanced coordination with faith communities can benefit the people of Maryland.”
Dr. Jonathan Ringo, vice president for clinical transformation at LifeBridge, said the creation of the network is important because “the way health care has changed, it’s not just about what happens in the hospital, but also about the continuum of care.” He cited many organizations within the community such as JCS, Ahavas Yisrael and Bikur Cholim that assist patients, but with the new network, “the point is to connect all the dots.”
Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative and head of the Consumer Outreach Task Force of the Health Services Cost Review Commission, said in November 2014 that he led a group to visit a similar system in Memphis, Tenn., on the suggestion of several faith leaders in Maryland. That system has been successfully in place but based out of only one hospital for about 10 years. His hope is “to make [the Maryland network] statewide and maybe even nationwide,” if the pilot is successful.
District 11 Del. Shelly Hettleman was on hand for the announcement at the Pearlstone Center, where about 100 liaisons and clergy have begun training to work within the network.
Hettleman called the network a “win-win-win” for hospitals, patients and congregations because though many synagogues have support systems in place for congregants who may become hospitalized, setting up a structure will make “the relationship more formal between the hospital and the spiritual adviser,” which is important because “there’s a positive correlation between spiritual health and physical health.”
The Maryland Faith Community Health Network combines “the power of caring, the power of curing and the power of community,” said Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association, also in attendance at Pearlstone.
The pilot received funding from the Abell Foundation, Community Catalyst, the Jacob & Hilda Blaustein Foundation, the France-Merrick Foundation and the Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Foundation.