By Marilyn Williams, BCC
In early 2011, the Pastoral Care Department of St. Mary’s Medical Center in Evansville, Indiana, in response to the organizational goal: “St. Mary’s will have strong partnerships in our community,” initiated its Partnership in Ministry program for working with clergy and faith communities. Although we had always worked with clergy and other faith communities in meeting the spiritual needs of our patients, we decided as part of our emphasis at St. Mary’s on creating a healthier community in terms of mind, body, and spirit, that it was important to be more intentional in building a strong partnership with churches and clergy.
The Partners in Ministry Program kicked off in May 2011 with a luncheon and health resource fair; approximately 50 clergy and other congregational ministers were in attendance. The resource fair included health screenings for clergy themselves, as well as booths regarding our community outreach programs that could help faith communities meet the health needs of their members. In addition, this kick-off event featured a video showing how the hospital and churches ministered together in addressing the health needs of our community. Also, our Healthy Lives fitness center was offered to clergy/ministers at the same discounted rate that is available to Medical Center associates.
This event was planned and implemented with the assistance of our Community Outreach Department. As a result of this first event, St. Mary’s became a resource for health educational programs or health fairs offered by local churches. In addition, additional clergy became aware of the procedures regarding clergy badges and visitation of their congregants. An unanticipated byproduct of this initial program was separate gatherings of women clergy and women religious that provided networking/support opportunities. St. Mary’s female chaplains participate in both groups.
In addition, our Partners in Ministry Program is supported by the St. Mary’s Foundation, which provides funding for the meals provided at Partners in Ministry events. The department absorbs other costs associated with the program. Also, other medical center departments have provided in-kind assistance such as with speakers for other events and a marketing logo. Our initial goal has been to conduct two educational programs or events a year.
Since the initial luncheon and health fair, we have had three other programs: (1) Training on “The Do’s and Don’ts of Hospital Visitation,” (2) a half-day workshop on end-of-life issues, including issues related to neonatology and pediatrics with presentations by members of our medical staff and Palliative Care Coordinator, and (3) a program on the impact of healthcare reform on St. Mary’s and the benefits of faith community nurses for churches. Also, as part of our dialogue with faith communities we utilize an electronic newsletter for staying in contact between meetings.
Although these educational endeavors are important, we are hopeful that we can evolve in a way that fosters concrete projects for working together on specific issues or problems facing our community. As such, the Pastoral Care Department brought together our Case Management Department, representatives of the Welborn Foundation, which provides funding/assistance to faith community nurses in the Evansville area, and the parish nurse at one of our local Catholic churches in the fall 2012 to form a pilot project to improve continuity of care and reduce hospital readmissions to the hospital. When a patient is a member of Good Shepherd Parish, with the patient’s permission, case managers will make a referral and provide a copy of the discharge plan to the parish nurse for follow-up education and assistance. Early in 2013, we will evaluate how this project is working and hopefully expand to additional churches. Also, chaplains will make referrals when appropriate to parish nurses or clergy to follow up on spiritual needs for these patients.
Marilyn Williams is director of pastoral care at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Evansville, IN.