Caring For Advanced Illness Through Faith Communities

Community health experts continue to connect with older adults through faith-based communities.

The city of Fremont did this several years ago with its Community Ambassadors Program for Seniors. From churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues to community centers and beyond, health officials found faith communities already had deep ties within ethnic communities.

So when a Pennsylvania-based foundation recently announced two grants for innovations in health care, they chose an Oakland program that addresses advanced illness through several local African-American churches.

The Alameda County Care Alliance injects “care navigators” inside five African-American churches to help congregants suffering from advanced illnesses like cancer navigate the complex worlds of palliative care and hospice. The care navigators also offer advice on advanced directives and offer guidance on housing, transportation, and respite care for caregivers.

“Despite growing national attention to advanced illness care, African Americans experience consistent disparities including a disproportionate burden of advanced illness,” says Janice Bell of the UC Davis Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, which is collaborating with the alliance to offer training and outreach. “(This program meets) the advanced illness care needs of African American community members in ways that align with their spiritual values and cultural preferences.”

The three-year, $600,000 grant will be used to train three more care navigators at three additional Oakland church communities with 500 total members. The money will be also be used to train volunteer care ministers and provide outreach throughout the area faith community.

“Having these initial conversations to prepare the client for physician talks is key, and makes for an empowered participant,” says Cynthia Carter Perrilliat, who heads the Alameda County Care Alliance.

The Oakland-based Public Health Institute provides project management for the program.

The Rita & Alex Hillman Foundation, based in Pittsburgh, chose the Oakland Advanced Illness Care Program out of 160 applicants for its Hillman Innovations in Care Program.

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