Center of Excellence in Faith and Health Opens

Published On 03/03/2011

The future of health care may be under dispute in Washington, but it is under construction in Memphis. You can see it through the glass doors of the new Center of Excellence in Faith and Health at the heart of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare’s largest hospital. The big news in not some new machine in the hospital, but hundreds of new relationships all over the community Methodist Healthcare serves, most remarkably with 329 congregations who share the mission of health and healing.

"The city of Memphis is leading the nation in faith-health partnerships and attracting the attention of senior Obama Administration officials,” said Mara Vanderslice, acting director, Health and Human Services’ Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. “Building a
coalition of some 400 congregations with hospitals, community health centers and privately funded clinics to promote public health to communities that are traditionally underserved is unprecedented and should be celebrated."

Vanderslice led a significant delegation of public policy leaders from Washington, D.C. that recently saw first-hand the work of the Center.

“They were astonished by the scale and depth of what is happening here,” said Gary Gunderson, D. Min., M.Div., senior vice president of faith and health at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare.

The Memphis model of healthcare rests on trusted community relationships and on generous support from donors that are moved to share the vision. Dr. Ralph and Barbara Hamilton provided the initial $1 million for the Center and additional donors include local foundations and individuals who contributed over $1.5 million to complete the funding of the construction and renovation.

Experts from around the world are helping map the way forward—and learning from Memphis as it goes.

Professor Jim Cochrane, Co-Principal of the African Religious Health Assets Programme (ARHAP) and Director of the Research Institute on Christianity in Southern Africa (RICSA), had this to say:

"Memphis may feel to some as if it cannot possibly offer something to global health. But it does. The boundary crossing experiments in community partnerships for health and the re-imagining of the way in which health and faith intertwine that the Center of Excellence embodies, do not simply impact on the health of all in Memphis alone. They represent a critical reinvention of what a hospital means and of what community health means, in a partnership that rests on perhaps the single most vital ingredient once one has the science one needs -- the trust of those whom one serves. This is as relevant to the healthcare systems in Africa as it is in Memphis, or anywhere."

The center is an interfaith, collaborative center of research, innovation and training. Working with partners both locally and all over the world, the Center has a multi-tiered approach including: identifying and linking local community faith resources; providing support and resources to clergy; enhancing the patient experience within the walls of the hospital; and collaborative research with international experts on faith and health – all with the goal of improving the wellbeing of the patient before, during and after the hospital experience.

Kenneth S. Robinson, pastor and CEO of St. Andrew AME Church and former Commissioner of Health for the State of Tennessee said, "Two of Memphis' greatest institutional assets are our congregations and our hospitals. Standing at the intersection of those assets - in unique, relevant and visionary fashion - is the Center of Excellence at Methodist. The wisdom of the approach modeled herein, the intellectual basis upon which the Center is built, the contemporaneous and downstream benefits to patients, and its new paradigm of how the healthcare delivery system interfaces with the community - all provide great promise for both reducing health and healthcare disparities, and for fulfilling our calling to promote good stewardship of our bodies.”

Even before the Center opened, early evidence showed the novel strategy is beginning to work and the Congregational Health Network is making a difference. Electronic medical record data from the first two years suggests that those members in our network (vs. those not in network, but matched on age, gender, race and diagnoses) demonstrated 20 percent fewer readmissions, used over $8,000 per capita less in terms of hospital charges and had half the crude mortality rate.

The Center of Excellence in Faith and Health is physically located in 16,000-square-feet of newly renovated space and contains a family care center, family education library, consultation space for families and physicians, and The Kemmons Wilson Family Foundation Innovation Studio, a state-of-the-art area for training and teleconferencing. However, the initiatives of the Center reach far beyond the walls of the hospital with tendrils in every corner of the community via programs like the Congregational Health Network, Religious Health Asset Mapping, Clergy Leadership, and international partnerships.