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"We're saving a lot of money. We're mobilizing and aligning hundreds of people that we couldn't pay," said Gunderson, referring to the roughly 500 volunteer church liaisons.

"It's the social connections, the nitty gritty practical stuff that makes a huge difference," said Gary Gunderson, senior vice president for the health system. "Whether people understand how to take Fendi Bags Green

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Unlike so many innovations in health reform these days, hospital church partnerships probably don't need a financial leg up from the federal government.

When it comes time to discharge the patient, the liaison works with the navigator to make sure the transition happens smoothly, connecting the patient with community services such as Meals on Wheels and transportation.

The liaison then plans a visit, if the member wishes, "so they have a support structure, not just the nurse and doctor," said Valerie Murphy, the liaison for her small church of six families in Millington, Tenn., a rural area north of Memphis.

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Two mainstays of the Memphis, Tenn., community the Methodist Le Bonheur hospital system and nearly 400 local churches have teamed up for an innovative program that keeps church members healthy while reducing health care costs.

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Griggs, 48, drives a truck and doesn't have health insurance. But the liaison referred him to a nonprofit clinic that serves the uninsured.

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their medications, whether there's food in the house."

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program shows faith might aid healing

Recently, for example, a neurologist with the Loma Linda physicians group spoke at a Temecula, Calif., church with a large Hispanic population about the signs of stroke and early dementia, and about available services.

If not actually made in heaven, it's a match that has benefited all parties significantly. And other health care systems are taking note.

"The church community wants to provide those hours," said Mara Vanderslice Kelly, acting director of the Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The health system compared the experiences and costs of 473 patients in the program with those of similar nonparticipating patients who received standard care from 2007 09: The mortality rate for those in the network was 50 percent lower than for nonparticipating patients, and their hospital readmission rates were 20 percent lower.

Methodist says 70 percent of its patients belong to churches. To help people get the care they need when they need it, the system assigns hospital staff, appropriately called "navigators,'' to work with volunteer liaisons at area churches that have joined the health system's Congregational Health Network. When a member of one of these congregations is admitted to the hospital, the navigator notifies the liaison.

If all this volunteer work sounds like a very good deal for financially strapped health care systems, it is.

"Our research showed that Spanish speaking populations weren't necessarily accessing dementia services," Barilla said.

Murphy, for example, regularly posts information about risk factors for chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease in the church bulletin and on the church bulletin Fendi Bags Backpack

Patient education is another key to the program's long term success. In addition to helping hospital patients, the liaisons work to educate members of their congregations about healthful living and disease prevention.

For more than a decade, the Inova Health System in northern Virginia has been working with religious communities on health promotion and prevention through its Congregational Health Partnership. To better serve the area's wide variety of faiths and languages, Inova employs different program managers to work with Hispanic, Muslim, Korean, Vietnamese and African American groups, said Maria Schaart, a physician who works with Hispanic churches.

HHS recently invited Methodist to describe its programs at an event that brought representatives of 18 health systems together to discuss innovative faith and community based programs.

In the future, Methodist expects to reap savings by reducing the need for high end specialized Fendi Handbags At Saks care and avoiding penalties for hospital readmission, said Teresa Cutts, Methodist's director of research for innovation at its Center for Excellence for Faith and Health.

Churches welcome the opportunity to work with health systems to help their members.

Tyrone Griggs credits a sharp eyed liaison at his church with his diabetes diagnosis nine months ago. The liaison noticed he was having trouble reading his Bible, he said, and talked with his wife about getting him tested.

This article was produced through a collaboration between The Post and Kaiser Health News. KHN, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy organization that isn't affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

"They monitor me and taught me how to take care of myself," he said. "I've been going there ever since."

Although many health systems that are working with churches to develop their "health ministries" are faith based, not all are.

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Methodist may have one of the most extensive programs, but it's by no means the only health system partnering with churches to improve congregation members' health. At Loma Linda University Medical Center in Southern California, medical staff from the Seventh day Adventist health system provide free health screening and education to members of area churches, said Dora Barilla, the medical center's director of community health development.

board, and she brings in experts to discuss chronic conditions.

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"Our belief is that the hospitals have the funds to do these partnerships if they want to," Kelly said.

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