Rev. Gary R. Gunderson, senior vice president for health and welfare ministries for Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare in Memphis
Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare (MLH) has made Memphis the first United States city to replicate a model of healthcare that started in Africa.
The three-year project, which grew out of the African Religious Health Assets Program (ARHAP), will map both tangible assets, such as clinics, and intangible religious health assets, such as prayer and goodwill efforts, that are considered useful in combating targeted health issues and provide them as a resource for healthcare providers and congregations to coordinate all aspects of one’s care.
Rev. Gary R. Gunderson, senior vice president for health and welfare ministries for MLH, served as the primary investigator for the World Health Organization religious health asset mapping in Africa while at Emory University in Atlanta. Within two days of Gunderson’s recent move to Tennessee, he was traveling back to Africa to sign contracts to bring the mapping to Memphis.
“Memphis has a very unusual opportunity in that there is a very large, stable health-based organization in the community and an incredible density of congregations to work with,” Gunderson said. “It’s also, frankly, a community in which the health challenges are so deeply rooted in the social fabric that it requires a lot of faith to engage. To work with this organization and a community on this scale with this strategy is quite extraordinary. Memphis is a reality ground where we put the mapping into play.”
The ARHAP, funded by WHO with partners from the universities of Cape Town, KwaZulu-Natal and Witwatersrand, along with researchers from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory, was initiated in 2005 to study the scope of AIDS in Lesotho and Zambia. The model uses traditional Global Information Systems (GIS) mapping coupled with other interactive approaches to create a comprehensive compilation of health programs and networks. Entities to be mapped include congregations, health-related ministries, walking trails, public gyms, food pantries, clothes closets, economic and housing development groups and neighborhood initiates along with hospital and clinics, even yoga classes.
Rev. Canon Ted Karpf, partnership officer, WHO department of HIV/AIDS, welcomed Memphis as the nation’s first city to replicate the model.
“The fact that the process will be replicated in Memphis gives the World Health Organization a chance to validate the techniques in a different culture, which is important to adapting the methods in many other parts of the world,” said Karpf.
Teresa Cutts, PhD, senior scholar with Methodist Health and Welfare Ministries Division, is also involved in the mapping program.
“Our pandemics are obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke, violence, end of life issues and every kind of disparity known to man, including infant mortality,” Cutts said. “Our model will look at those more chronic conditions as opposed to HIV/AIDS. We have some original researchers from Africa coming (Aug. 20), and we’re going to start with some actual mapping near the Methodist South Hospitals, because that’s where we have our Congregational Health Networks. This is a way to build care outside the walls of the hospital and take it into the community.
“We consider the hospital as the disease care entity and the community or congregations are the healthcare entity. We’re doing health education training to make congregations smarter. The congregations will be expanded and allow us to leverage some of those assets.”
Gunderson said Memphis is much like Africa, being rich in religious health assets that if identified and aligned, are key to turning communities toward better health and quality of life.
“Religious health asset mapping can help us reverse those bleak statistics by enabling us to identify all the things in our community that are successful in combating our targeted health issues,” said Gunderson. “Once they’re identified, we can begin the work of collaborating, mobilizing and aligning these resources for maximum advantage. This work is desperately needed and is unprecedented in our city and country. With this knowledge, we can fill critical gaps and target interventions.”
Whitehaven pastor Rev. T. O’Neal Crivens, Sr., said the work is important because of many health deficiencies prominent in the community.
“I believe they’re not being addressed by our community,” Crivens said. “Adequate information is not being infused to help people make better choices.”
The MLH mapping program consists of four aspects: traditional global information systems mapping (GIS), participatory inquiry into religious health assets, networks and agency (PIRHANA), leadership engagement and case studies. It will be done in two phases. During the first phase, MLH will partner with the University of Memphis Shared Urban Data Set, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Methodist Theological Seminary, Church Health Center, Christ Community Health Services and Metropolitan Interfaith Association to mobilize assets for the developing Congregational Health Network. It will create an interactive framework for identifying religious health assets.
The second phase will use the data gathered to expand the Congregational Health Network. Flow charts for delivery of intervention, treatment, and age care, prevention and education will be developed and resourced via staffing, training and existing community resources. The goal is to build an integrated system of care that starts in the congregations or community and flows seamlessly through the hospitals, ambulatory care clinics and then back into the community.
“The real genius is that it gets leaders who live on the map to validate the map,” Gunderson said. “The way you connect dots on a map is not with wires; it’s with trust. It’s imperative that people in the system trust each other. In Memphis, that’s a breathtaking body of work. This is a city with a very difficult past. To have a strategy that’s built on webs of trust, that’s quite extraordinary. The big gain to the community system and to any component health system is in the efficiencies and intelligence. The system becomes more efficient when assets are aligned. This takes place through smooth referrals and the elimination of duplicate redundant and confusing pathways.”