The holidays and the winter months can be lonely for people with limited access to family and friends. Add to that a pandemic that instills fear of the unknown and there’s a formula for isolation. One IU Health program is working to improve that isolation – here’s how.
By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, firstname.lastname@example.org
Some have faced extended illness. Some are without transportation. Some are in need of social services. Many are just lonely.
They are former patients who are now at home. Their health has improved but they still crave human connection. That’s where the IU Health Congregational Care Network comes in. The program is a bridge to hospital care and home.
Through the Congregational Care Network, members of faith-based congregations receive special volunteer training. They are then paired with IU Health patients that are back home. Essentially, the patients go home to get well physically, but they miss the other parts that improve their quality of living – social interaction.
“We currently have 120 active patients in the Congregational Care Network program; 138 patients have completed the program and we have an additional 27 patients pending, which means we are following them on our own a bit until they are ready for outreach by one of our congregations,” said Tricia Behringer, an IU Health social worker with the program. “This brings our total participants to 285 as Jan. 4, 2022. We are working with 15 congregations at this time, 13 of which are in Marion County and two in Monroe County,” she added.
The widespread pandemic has added more challenges to that interaction. But volunteers have found creative ways to connect through phone calls, personal notes and holiday gifts.
Working as a team that includes chaplains, social workers, and other hospital caregivers, the Congregational Care Network identifies patients who may benefit from the companionship. Once a patient consents, they are matched with a congregation and a volunteer – usually in close proximity to their home.
In addition to weekly contacts, the volunteers help connect the patients with social service agencies, or stipends for food, transportation or other necessities.
As special initiative during the holidays, members of one participating congregation – First Baptist Church North Indianapolis – provided 15 fruit baskets to their companions. The deliveries were part of the church “Feeding & Fueling” outreach.
“With COVID, some outlets have scaled back and perhaps ceased distribution of food/clothing and spiritual guidance to their surrounding neighbors,” said Stephanie Patterson, who heads up the Congregational Care Network for First Baptist North. “I’m proud to say, God blessed us to continue our ministry and with the help of IU Health we have enhanced our ministry to provide for our neighbors of the ‘companion’ program,” she said.
“I’d like to think while modern medicine can mend a broken body, a listening ear, or whispered prayer can sooth a broken heart. Our desire is to minister to clients, walking beside them as they heal – providing companionship and resources on their journey to feeling better.”