Volunteers help improve lives and reduce Wilkes Regional readmissions
By Laura Mitchell
June 24, 2016
By Laura Mitchell
June 24, 2016
Wilkes FaithHealth volunteers Alma Luffman, left, and Audrey Cothren, right, are friends who attend Knobbs Baptist Church in the Austin community. They became FaithHealth volunteers at WRMC after a serious health scare in Luffman’s life left her struggling to find the proper resources she needed.
A small group of Christians gathered at the Stone Mountain Baptist Association Office in Hays on June 18 to learn ways of putting their faith and fellowship into action by helping members of their churches and others in Wilkes County improve their health and potentially stave off a trip to the hospital.
The free, six-hour training session for perspective volunteers was part of FaithHealthNC, an initiative of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center (WFBMC) in Winston-Salem carried out here in collaboration with Wilkes Regional Medical Center (WRMC) and local churches and community groups.
The session was led by Renee Rutherford, RN, FaithHealth and readmissions coordinator at WRMC, and the Rev. Leland Kerr, a Wilkes resident and liaison for the Division of FaithHealth at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
“FaithHealth is so much more than outreach,” said Rutherford, who worked in both management and as a nurse in the WRMC Emergency Room before becoming the program’s coordinator in January 2016.
“First and foremost, it’s about getting patients the proper support and resources they need before, during and after hospitalization. FaithHealth is a very vital part of the their journey on the road to healing and recovery,” said Rutherford.
“Then there’s the part of educating people so they know they’re not alone and help is available. That’s where our volunteers from local churches and community groups come into play.”
Getting from here to there
Most of the patients who currently turn to Rutherford and the FaithHealth volunteers for help are uninsured, middle-aged and older adults struggling with transportation needs.
“If a person gets discharged from the hospital (WRMC) but then has no way to get to the followup appointment in Winston-Salem to see a specialist or get a prescription refilled, there’s a good chance of ending up right back in the hospital within a few weeks,” said Rutherford, “and those are the types of patients we can help by simply making a few phone calls.”
FaithHelp volunteers can provide this transportation.
The overall intent of most community and faith-based health care initiatives throughout the nation is to help contain hospital costs and improve quality outcomes among patients.
In a national effort to encourage hospitals to reduce readmissions, as part of the Affordable Care Act, Congress enacted the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program.
Guidelines stipulate the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services penalize hospitals with higher-than-expected readmissions for specific conditions such as heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia.
Rutherford said the WRMC Faith Health program specifically targets readmissions by screening hospitalized patients about their needs before they go home.
“Each patient receives information about FaithHealth services along with their discharge information before leaving the hospital,” she explained.
“Once patients are discharged, I personally follow up with them by phone to make sure they’re doing okay and remind them that our services are available. So far, I think we’re making a huge impact. Right now, our 30-day readmission rate was down about 30 percent for the month of May.”
Rutherford, who serves as both a patient educator and case manager, is quick to point out that FaithHealth helps patients in addition to those seen at WRMC.
“I get referrals from our local health department, social services, physicians’ offices and other area agencies looking to connect patients to us who are in danger of falling through the cracks,” she said.
“FaithHealth does not provide financial assistance, but I am able to look into the community to see what resources are available and help match those resources up to a patient’s needs.”
Right help, right here
According to Kerr, who directed Saturday’s training session, having committed, local volunteer caregivers is key to helping patients navigate through the health care system and maintain overall health of communities.
“The communities of Wilkes are made up of proud people who are used to working together and taking care of their own,” said Kerr. “And I can say that because I grew up here.”
He continued, “Part of FaithHealthNC’s success in Wilkes County can be credited to the fact that we’re building on that sense of pride and ownership by encouraging local church families to partner with Wilkes Regional in helping care for their family and neighbors.”
He added, “We’re here to help with no strings attached. There is no charge for FaithHealth. We don’t charge the patients anything. We don’t charge churches to participate. It’s a ministry of compassion that we share together. And it’s that compassion that’s helping build a healthier community and body of Christ for us all.”
For more information about the resources available through FaithHealthNC, or to volunteer, contact Rutherford at 336-651-8233.
Wilkes FaithHealth Coordinator Renee Rutherford R.N. and FaithHealth Liaison the Rev. Leland Kerr were instructors for the volunteer training course.
FaithHealth is a ministry of compassion that we share together. And it’s that compassion that’s helping build a healthier community and body of Christ for us all.
FaithHealthNC expanding efforts in Wilkes County to improve patient care
FaithHealthNC recently added three staff members to ramp up its efforts in Wilkes County. Registered nurse Julie Scott will serve as Health Care Liaison, and Dorothy Greene and Tim Murphy join Gail Mitchell as Connectors. Dr. Nelson Granade is the Wilkes County Coordinator. Top row from the left: Connector Dorothy Greene; Wilkes County Coordinator Dr. Nelson Granade; Connector Gail Mitchell; and Chris Smith, Director of Property and Finance for The Health Foundation, Inc. Bottom row: Jane Corley, Service Excellence Coordinator at Wilkes Regional Medical Center; Liaison Julie Scott; Dr. Chris Gambill, Director of FaithHealthNC; Barbara Overby, Vice President of Quality Improvement at Wilkes Regional Medical Center; and Connector Tim Murphy.
A movement to use local churches to improve health care is expanding its efforts in the area.
FaithHealthNC has hired additional staff and will conduct volunteer training sessions in an effort to ramp up its impact in Wilkes County.
Organizers hope to create a corps of trained volunteers from local churches to provide comfort and practical help to people grappling with illness. These volunteers, known as Congregational Caregivers, provide support to fellow congregation members and people in the community before, during and after illness strikes.
Assistance can take many forms, including:
About two dozen local residents are already trained as Congregational Caregivers. FaithHealth has scheduled additional volunteer training sessions in hopes to double that number this fall.
FaithHealth has added a local Healthcare Liaison position to match volunteers with patients and provide support and oversight to volunteers. Julie Scott is an experienced registered nurse who will consult with Congregational Caregivers about patient needs and community resources.
Wilkes Regional Medical Center officials will work with Mrs. Scott to identify patients who could benefit from FaithHealth services.
“We are excited to partner with FaithHealthNC in an effort to extend care management services to our patients,” said Wilkes Regional CEO Gene Faile. “This unique faith based approach utilizes congregations from various churches throughout the region to facilitate a continuum of care with the goal of improving the health and well-being of those with limited access.”
WRMC hopes to reduce the number of patients who are treated and released only to return because of lack of support at home.
It’s a problem at hospitals everywhere, FaithHealth officials say. At a meeting last year in Winston-Salem, organizers learned of a woman who returned home after surgery to a house with no food.
“We prescribed her the right pharmaceuticals upon her release, but we didn’t prescribe food. She had no idea where she’d find it,” Gary Gunderson, Vice President of Faith and Health Ministries for Wake Forest Baptist Health, recalls.
Volunteer caregivers can make a big difference in such situations, organizers say. In a similar program in Memphis, Tennessee, patients from participating congregations stayed out of the hospital nearly 40 percent longer than those in congregations not participating in the program.
FaithHealthNC volunteers help people utilize primary care so they don’t end up in the emergency room. They help people recognize symptoms and learn about preventive care, so they get care at the right time, and they prepare patients so they are ready to be treated when they visit the doctor. Volunteers provide emotional and spiritual support so patients do not feel alone.
FaithHealthNC began in 2013 as a Wake Forest Baptist Health initiative, but with emerging partnerships across the state, it’s becoming a statewide movement. Wilkes is one of the first communities in the state to get on board.
The local effort has strong support from Wilkes Regional and The Health Foundation, a health care philanthropy based in North Wilkesboro. The foundation provided a grant to fund the Healthcare Liaison position and organized meetings last year to launch FaithHealth in Wilkes and identify possible partners in the movement.
“FaithHealthNC is a tremendous beacon of hope for Wilkes County,” Health Foundation executive director Heather Murphy said. “Our strong faith community can make a big difference in the health of our citizens.”
The movement has also gained support from local churches.
About a half dozen Wilkes congregations have already entered into Shared Commitments to support FaithHealth efforts within their churches, and more faith partners are currently being sought. Dorothy Greene and Tim Murphy have been hired part-time to recruit churches and volunteers. They join Gail Mitchell, who has been recruiting in western Yadkin and eastern Wilkes since last year.
Dr. Nelson Granade, pastor at First Baptist Church of North Wilkesboro, is Wilkes County FaithHealth Coordinator. He views his involvement in FaithHealth as a natural extension of his role as a pastor.
“FaithHealthNC is a great opportunity to bring back together those concerned with the health of the physical body and those concerned with the health of the soul. Both are vital and interrelated,” Dr. Granade said.
“The work of the FaithHealth movement is sacred work,” says FaithHealth Director and former pastor Dr. Chris Gambill. “Its roots are in God’s mission of creating a healthy, loving community---God’s beloved community. The work of FaithHealthNC often looks like we are just helping people with health-related needs, but the motivation, hope, intent and aims are bigger than that. We hope to change lives.”
To find out more, visit the FaithHealthNC website at www.faithhealthnc.org.
The work of the FaithHealth movement is sacred work. Its roots are in God’s mission of creating a healthy, loving community---God’s beloved community.