Improving Self-Care and Reducing ED Visits Through a Health Ministry Program

Intervention Title:
Improving Self-Care and Reducing Emergency Department (ED) Visits Through a Health Ministry Program, Delta Regional Medical Center (DRMC); Greenville, Miss.

Improve self-care for chronically ill patients and reduce emergency department visits and hospitalization by providing resource information, health education, screenings and medication counseling to patients through a network of individuals involved in a health ministry at area churches

Established a Health Ministry Network involving trained individuals called upon to minister to the health needs of congregational members to assist patients—particularly those with heart disease and diabetes—in better self-managing their care. The Health Ministry Network is linked to the Good Samaritan Health Center, a source for primary care and health education for the uninsured, and DRMC’s Medication Assistance Program, a source for immediate help with prescription medications.  

Within the first quarter of 2008, a majority of the 475 patients receiving services at the Good Samaritan Health Center and through Delta Regional’s Medication Assistance Program were referred by members of the Health Ministry Network. Many of these patients would likely have ended up in an area emergency room without the intervention of the health ministry representatives.

Delta Regional Medical Center
1400 East Union Street
Greenville, MS 38704-5247

From the C-Suite: 

“People who are active in their church often want to make a contribution of their time, like joining the choir or teaching Sunday school classes, but not all of us have those talents. Some of us, however, do have the spiritual gift of compassion and ministry to the health needs of our congregation. Improving congregation members’ physical health, which also benefits one’s spiritual well-being, is a way for us to contribute meaningfully.” 

Florence Jones, M.S.N.
Chief Nursing Officer

365-bed public community hospital. 

Clinical areas affected:

  • Emergency department

Staff involved:

  • Certified nurse assistants
  • Licensed practical nurses
  • Laboratory technicians
  • Registered nurses
  • Social workers

DRMC staff began facilitating the formation of the Health Ministry Network during the summer of 2005. Members of the Network—working with DRMC staff and other faith-health partners—opened the Good Samaritan Health Center of the Mid-Delta in October 2006 in response to the need for primary care for the uninsured. One year later, DRMC continues to add members to the 94-member Health Ministry Network from throughout the organization’s service area.

Jane Allen, M.S.
Director of Program Development
P: (662) 378-1362

Innovation implementation:
Like their counterparts in communities nationwide, many Greenville residents who have a chronic illness, such as heart disease or diabetes, are not receiving all of the care they need. Some regularly visit DRMC’s emergency department because they have nowhere else to turn for their care. And others cannot adhere to their medications and follow-up appointments because they simply do not have the resources, knowledge and understanding they need to self-manage their disease. 

A number of years ago, a Greenville-area nurse found herself increasingly serving as a medical resource for other members of her church congregation, receiving calls at home about medications, symptoms and more. She realized that she was involved in a much-needed ministry to her congregational members and those in the surrounding community. After becoming the first certified congregational health nurse in the mid-Delta, she was called to encourage other churches to initiate a health ministry.

With nearly 110 churches serving as the community’s nucleus in the Mississippi Delta—where two-thirds of residents are African American, the prevalence of heart disease is high and patients struggle for resources after hospital discharge—a network of health ministers operating in churches seemed a good vehicle for reaching patients in need. The vision was shared with a DRMC staff person who saw the Network as a means of reaching the un-reached with health information. The two have worked closely promoting health ministries, offering training and providing resources to interested congregations.

Through involvement with the Health Ministry Network, the two partners joined with other health care providers and ministers to address the need for primary care services for the uninsured in the area. A year-long effort to study free clinic models throughout the country resulted in the formation of the Good Samaritan Health Center, which initiated services in October 2006 in a vacant clinic provided by Delta Regional Medical Center. The Delta Resources Committee, an interdenominational organization established over 30 years ago to meet the needs of the impoverished residents in the Delta, serves as the fiscal agent for the clinic. 

Though the Good Samaritan Health Center began by treating patients only on Thursday evenings each week, the hours of operation now include Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings. Health education classes are also offered to help patients self-manage conditions such as congestive heart failure, hypertension and diabetes. 

Advice and lessons learned:

  1. Engage a local hospital to be a partner. Delta Regional Medical Center agreed to provide staff to help with clinic processes and grant-writing, as well as equipment and furnishings, such as scales and exam tables.
  2. Solicit donations. Greenville-area retiring physicians have also proven to be a good resource as volunteer providers, and for equipment and supplies.
  3. Don’t underestimate the demand. Though the Good Samaritan Health Center is limited in its hours of operation, organizers say that they have enough patients to be open seven days a week if resources allowed. Patients are seen by appointment, though walk-ins may be accepted at times.

Cost/benefit estimate:
Although the data is not yet available, organizers believe that the ministry’s services will lead to significant emergency services savings, and will also positively impact patients’ lengths of stay.