Connecting faith and health through the Camden Coalition Health Information Exchange

Amy Yuen

Our Faith in Prevention program continues to promote health in Camden’s faith-based communities in meaningful ways. One way we are helping participating faith-based organizations (such as churches, mosques, and synagogues) address the health needs of their congregants is through a pilot program that connects them to the Camden Coalition Health Information Exchange (HIE).

In this program, congregants who wish to be included in the Camden Coalition HIE consent to have their faith leader notified in case they are admitted to the hospital. If a member is hospitalized, their leader receives an email notification from the HIE about who was admitted to the hospital, the name of the hospital, and how to contact the patient. This enables the leader to reach out to their member and offer assistance.

“If a churchgoer is in the hospital and the pastor doesn’t know about it or come to see them, they can feel left out and unimportant,” said Maritza Gomez, Program Assistant in Community Engagement for the Camden Coalition. “But if a pastor finds out about the hospitalization and knows how to reach them, they can visit and pray for them, or help them get food, medicine, or whatever they need to keep them healthy. A lot of members don’t have relatives to help them, so the HIE pilot can help them connect to their faith and build a stronger relationship with their pastor.”

To safeguard patient privacy, the HIE provides faith leaders limited information about the member’s hospitalization, Maritza added. She said, “A lot of people don’t want people to know why they’re in the hospital. That’s up to them to share that information, but at least they know that other members care.”

Bishop Gus Swain of New Life Church Ministries knows firsthand the value of connecting his congregants to the Camden Coalition HIE. While getting trained on the HIE in December, he learned that a member of his congregation had been in the hospital for a few weeks. He had not seen her in church in recent weeks, and thought maybe she was out of town visiting her family for the holidays. Seeing her name appear on the HIE screen compelled him to reach out to her.

“When you live alone, it’s very difficult to get in touch with anyone, but the consent form allowed us to get in touch with her,” said Bishop Swain. “When people are by themselves, it always feels great when someone reaches out. If no one saw you before you left this world, it would feel like no one cares at all. Ministers are generally dealing with the spiritual side, but situations are not just spiritual. They are emotional and mental as well. If you can reach people on those levels, it means a whole lot more than just getting them to go to church and pray. We are all body, mind, soul, and spirit.”

Three more faith-based organizations–the Congregation of Yahweh, Ferry Avenue Baptist Church, and Tenth Street Baptist Church–will receive HIE training in February as part of the pilot. If the pilot proves successful, we hope to expand HIE access to other participating faith-based organizations in our program. “Many church members are elderly and are excited about getting the training,” said Maritza. “They say it’s helpful for them to stay connected.”

Now in its fourth year, our Faith in Prevention program is accepting applications from faith-based organizations in Camden county. For more information about applying to become a Faith in Prevention participant, visit our webpage and download the application packet.

Faith in Prevention is an initiative of the New Jersey Department of Health to expand the role of faith-based organizations in the delivery of health prevention services in New Jersey’s Camden County. Implemented by the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, the goal is to encourage healthy lifestyle choices through policy, systems, and environmental change, and ultimately reduce the burden of chronic disease among communities of faith in Camden County.