Lutherans in the Twin Cities

A point of ministry connection

Linking faith and health is critical to improving delivery of health care to people of all ages. That was the underlying theme of a recent presentation by Mark Eustis, president and CEO of Fairview Health Systems, at Bethlehem Lutheran Church (ELCA), Minneapolis. Eustis said, “Medical schools need to understand ‘faith’ just like seminarians need to understand ‘health.’”

The title of Eustis’ talk was “Health Choices: Role of the Church in Creating a New Way to Deliver Health Care.” He emphasized that Fairview considers its mission “to improve the health of communities we serve” and “to address the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of individuals and their families.”

He said that improving the health of a community requires a commitment to the entire continuum of care — moving from the current focus on caring for the sick to a new focus on improving health and well-being for a lifetime.

Fairview Health Systems president and CEO Mark Eustis; photo provided by Fairview Health Systems

Eustis was asked how he sees congregations interfacing with health care providers in a new model that emphasizes preventive care, cost savings, and improved lifestyles for seniors. He responded, “As health care providers take on responsibility and accountability for improving the health of defined populations, I think there is a real opportunity for congregations and health systems like Fairview to form partnerships to do this work.

“We are in the same business — improving the quality of human life — and together we have and can create collective capabilities to do this work,” Eustis added. “Since seniors make up a significant portion of a congregation’s membership, anything we can do together to improve their health and well-being achieves our collective mission.”

A model of care

How might this work in smaller congregations, Eustis was asked. He said, “I don’t think this work necessarily requires that every congregation have a parish nurse program, but it certainly helps. There may be opportunities for smaller congregations to share a parish nurse. We are also talking about new roles where members of the congregation would volunteer to be what we call ‘community builders’ or liaisons between members of the congregation and health systems. The community builders would be trained to work with ‘navigators’ or care coordinators employed by the health system in helping members of the congregations receive the appropriate care they need. There are tremendous opportunities to engage the power of volunteers who are members of the congregations in doing some of this work.”

Metro Lutheran asked Eustis how he would see this evolving in a congregation like Mount Olivet Lutheran Church (ELCA), Minneapolis, with multiple parish nurses or Normandale Lutheran Church (ELCA), Edina, the latter with its Center for Healing and Wholeness. He said, “We would work directly with what’s already in place within congregations; in fact, we would be interested in replicating the good work they have already done in other congregations. The intent is not to replace or duplicate what’s already working well, but to learn from the experience of others and to develop complementary programs and services to meet the expanded needs of members.”

Eustis was asked what kind of a time frame such innovations would require, given the quickening pace of change in health care. He replied, “We are already involved in conversations with a number of congregations, particularly those who are part of the Fairview Association. Over many years we have supported the creation of parish nurses in member congregations and offered health education, screening, flu vaccinations, etc., to congregations. As we work to better meet the needs of those we serve, we are interested in furthering this work now as part of your health reform agenda.”

Eustis sees partnering with congregations as a way of extending the care model. That includes:

* Integrating parish nurses with the primary care teams to extend care models,

* Using technology to ‘connect’ and align caregivers and volunteers,

* Engaging congregations in end-of-life care planning through the “Honoring Choices Minnesota” initiative, and

* Completing community health needs assessments together.

Eustis was asked how the Lutheran heritage of Fairview related to the large health services organization it has become. He said, “Fairview was founded by members of the Lutheran faith over 100 years ago to serve and minister to the health needs of those immigrating to this area. The mission and values of Fairview are rooted in the Lutheran faith and have guided us as a healing ministry driven to improve the health of the people and communities we serve and committing our skills and resources to the benefit of all we serve. The Fairview Association has continued to guide us in this quest through the Fairview Association Covenant that reinforces the joint commitment we have to one another and those we serve.”

Today the nonprofit Fairview encompasses eight hospitals/medical centers, 40 primary care clinics, more than 55 specialty clinics, 47 senior housing locations, and more than 20,000 employees plus over 3,000 aligned physicians.

In 2010, Fairview served 5.1 million outpatients and more than 74,000 inpatients. Its investment in care for the community is exemplified by the April 2011 opening of the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital and Ebenezer’s York Gardens, an assisted living facility adjacent and connected to the 7500 York Cooperative senior apartment building in Edina.

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