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The Memphis Model Workshop: Adapting the Congregational Health Network
Niels French is Director of Operations and International Ministries at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare in Memphis, Tennessee. He also manages a unique workshop. He was interviewed by Tom Peterson.
Why Memphis? How did the workshops get started?
It started with a unique alignment of factors and the benefit of an initial model here. In one of our hospitals, a church and hospital connection was starting on a small scale, exploring with pastors how to bring health education to churches. That was the core. But we had three components going on: first, a faith-based hospital that wanted to live out its faith in the community, looking for new meaning. And the Faith and Health division wanted to be more engaged with our faith identity.
Second, we are in a faith-saturated city; Memphis, along with a few other cities, is called the buckle of the Bible belt. And third, it’s a city of tremendous need and challenges: high levels of poverty, poor health and people not getting the care they need.
Stepping back from that, all we could say was, “Let’s look at our assets.” Well, if you walk in any neighborhood, you’ll see a congregation on almost every corner. It’s often a small church, where people gather, where’s there’s trust. You could look at it also as a health clinic where people could be educated around health needs. So it was connecting the dots.
Who comes to the workshops?
The Congregational Health Network, or CHN, model intrigues people. These same congregational assets are found in almost every city. Most people come from hospitals that want to do more and want to explore how to have a meaningful partnership. It’s really a diverse bunch: chaplains, or someone connected with the hospital’s faith identity; people who deal with community relations; development officers, who look at the funds this model allows; and those interested in reaching the community with education classes.
And what do they come away with?
In a day-and-a-half, participants learn firsthand about this unique model of partnership between a community and a hospital. They learn of the data collection, the electronic medical records, the training classes (and the full menu of classes we offer), the research, the successes and downfalls. They get to interact with the different players, such as the program’s director, the director of research, an involved pastor.
The liveliest session is the second day dialog with a navigator and liaison, actual members of congregations. They talk about their roles and responsibilities, challenges and successes. We also take participants to see a few community partners so they’ll get a sense of ways these organizations engage with the community. By time they leave they’ve been exposed to the whole gamut of players and issues.
The workshop is open with a lot of frank discussion, and it’s very practical. We share navigator job duties with the many roles they play, pay range, flexible hours. We talk about how we adjusted the program to deal with HIPAA privacy requirements. We openly share all of our job descriptions and other forms, so attendees leave with a jump drive full of how we operate. Of course, different attendees are interested in different aspects.
We call it an adaptation, not a replication seminar. That’s essential: if you try to do a plug and play of CHN somewhere else, it probably won’t succeed. You need to adapt it to your specific community and environment. You hear the word trust over and over. It takes time to build relationships and the processes.
How often do you hold them?
We’ve held a dozen workshops over the last three years. We try to have three or four a year. We just hosted one in April and we’ll host two more in September and December.
Are there any side benefits?
The learning is two-way, so while there’s an agenda, questions and discussion are encouraged. Memphis is not the only effort in the country. The last workshop had 20 people from 10 to 12 institutions, so you leave with having met and gotten the contact information of others on the journey. We’ve learned from a lot from other institutions already engaging in some type of congregational work—from Stephen Ministries to parish nurse partnerships and health/church initiatives dealing with diet, medication, and so on. We encourage participants to bring their information to share with each other. Sometimes, you learn what likely won’t work so you can avoid that pitfall.
A surprising benefit for MLH has been the relation with our foundation and the ability to plug the CHN work into funding grants for programs. The community/hospital relationship becomes a great bridge for other initiatives. We’ve ended up with programs in areas such as breast cancer awareness in disadvantaged communities, congregational work in increasing AIDS awareness and decreasing stigma, and in working with sickle-cell disease.
For more information, Contact Niels French: email@example.com or call 901-516-0835.