For Immediate Release

Maryland Faith Community Health Network Aims to Connect Hospitals and Places of Worship to Improve the Health of Marylanders

Pilot Project with Three LifeBridge Health Hospitals, Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative and Dozens of Local Faith-Based Organizations Creates Innovative Health Care Partnership

Baltimore, MD – For many people, their faith community serves as an extension of their own family, offering support and guidance throughout their lives. However, when someone goes into the hospital, this “extended family” may not know what the person needs or how best to offer support. Now, through an innovative partnership, the new Maryland Faith Community Health Network will connect hospital navigators and volunteer liaisons from local places of worship (such as churches, synagogues and mosques) to help coordinate care and support patients, both during and after a hospital stay.

The Maryland Faith Community Health Network is a partnership between LifeBridge Health, the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative (MCHI) and dozens of local houses of faith, all coming together with the shared goal of improving the health of people in Maryland.

“The health of a community is only as strong as the well-being of its citizens. The Maryland Faith Community Health Network offers an intriguing new approach to support our citizens, help them recover from illness and keep them well,” says Van Mitchell, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The Network’s first initiative is a two-year pilot project with three LifeBridge Health hospitals: one urban (Sinai Hospital), one suburban (Northwest Hospital) and one rural (Carroll Hospital).

With the patient’s consent, faith leaders in the pilot will be notified when a member of their congregation is admitted to the hospital, then specially trained liaisons from the patient’s own faith organization will work with hospital navigators to provide support to patients and their families, which could range from prayer, transportation and providing meals to referring them to trusted professionals in the community. Patients will have control over what information will be shared with their liaisons.

“Through the coordination between our congregational liaisons and hospital navigators, we will be able to deploy our ministry resources more effectively and efficiently, and therefore provide more timely and appropriate support for our congregants,” says Rev. John Deckenback of the United Church of Christ, who is the chairperson of the Ecumenical Leaders Group

While many faith communities may already have sophisticated health and visitation ministries, it may take some time before they know that a member is in the hospital. Through the Network, the congregational liaisons will know right away when a member is hospitalized. They will also get direct access to the hospital navigator so they can work together on any issues or challenges that may arise, as well as plan what social support the patient may need when he or she leaves the hospital. Also, the hospital navigator may be able to help the communities address upcoming needs that they or the patients themselves may not have anticipated.

“At LifeBridge Health, we have been working to keep our communities healthy through our Population Health department, pastoral care and other outreach initiatives. We are now excited to be the pilot site with our partners in the Maryland Community Faith Health Network to explore how this innovative approach to enhanced coordination with faith communities can benefit the people of Maryland,” says Neil Meltzer, president and CEO of LifeBridge Health.

The Maryland project follows the example of the Memphis Congregational Health Network, a successful program that has grown to include 600 congregations since its creation in 2006. That project found that congregants who used the network had improved health, including less time spent in the hospital, even compared to patients who had social support from their congregation but did not use the network. The decrease in hospitalizations also led to cost savings for hospitals.

Representatives from both MCHI and LifeBridge Health visited the Memphis network and adapted the concept to Maryland’s unique health care system. Organizers chose to start with one health system and its surrounding places of worship, with the hopes that a successful pilot project will lead to an expansion across the state.

“Congratulations to LifeBridge Health for piloting the Maryland Faith Community Health Network,” says Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association. “We look forward to seeing this work become a model that can help other Maryland hospitals make the state’s health system transformation work for everyone.”

“Faith communities are natural partners of health care organizations, with a shared mission of support and care giving. We believe that the Maryland Faith Community Health Network will align the efforts of a patient’s faith and health networks, with everyone working together to keep people well and out of the hospital. We are eager to see how the Network can improve the health of people in our state,” adds Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative.

The Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative will provide initial, as well as on-going, education to the faith liaisons, which will include detailed training on patient privacy rights, how to make sure their congregants are enrolled in health care coverage, and public health resources available to them.

The project received grant support from the Abell Foundation, Community Catalyst, the Jacob & Hilda Blaustein Foundation, the France-Merrick Foundation and the Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Foundation.

Sharon Boston

Vincent DeMarco