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In about a year, the work by Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare to address healthcare issues in a South Memphis neighborhood has grown from an experiment to a full-time endeavor focused on the 38109 zip code.
The first of what will likely be many Wellness Wednesday events, which took place at the Riverview Community Center on March 12, is a sure sign of growing momentum. The one-of-a-kind health half-day gathering drew 85 participants and yielded 43 assessments.
Volunteers and partner organizations had just two questions when it was over, said Methodist VP of Senior Services, Sandra Bailey, who oversees the 38109 project. “’When’s the next one?’ and ‘How can I do more?’”
Methodist’s partner in the work, the Cigna Foundation, kick-started the initiative with a $100,000 grant last year and has committed to stay involved. That support made it possible for Joy Sharp, the driving force behind the effort from day one, to go from part time to full time as a community health navigator. Denita Bass recently joined her as a faith community nurse. In her new role, she’ll work to harness the power of churches in 38109 to address the cracks in the healthcare system that are a fact of life in this urban community.
“I'm the middle man,” Joy says of her role. “I'm routing information back to doctors and medical staff and routing it the other direction to the patients in language they can understand.”
More like a one-woman grassroots movement, Joy canvasses churches, community and senior centers and neighborhood stores to spread the word about the wellness events and the resources available to community residents. What are now monthly events started out sparsely attended. But Joy, who grew up in the community and spent eight years in community outreach for Christ Community Health Centers, has worked hard to educate and build trust.
“I’m definitely known in the community,” she says.
That familiarity has helped Joy in an aspect of her job that grew out of organizing the wellness events. She spends a chunk of her time interacting with a group of community residents now referred to as Familiar Faces—about 95 high-risk individuals who use the Emergency Department 50 or more times per year.
Joy’s goal is to meet with each of them to assess their ER usage and guide them to other Methodist resources or affiliated resources. It’s slow work—so far she’s interacted with about 35.
But her persistence is paying off. In January, she met an 18-year-old girl who suffers from gastroparesis and diabetes and was spending nearly four days of every week in the hospital. By mid-March, she’d gone nearly a month without a hospital visit, and, with the help of a homebound teacher, she’s working to be the first in her family to graduate high school.
Sandra Bailey attributes the growing success in part to Joy’s ability to build trust.
“They've let Joy in,” she said. “They will talk to Joy when they won't talk to a social worker or a case manager.”
Joy says it’s just who she is and what she does.
“I can't sleep at night,” she says, “unless I've helped at least one person.”
To learn more about the work taking place due to donors who are investing in the community through the Methodist Healthcare Foundation, contact Paula Jacobson at 901-516-0503 or firstname.lastname@example.org.