Tameka DeVane is in good health: She’s in her early 40s, and she eats right and exercises regularly. But she spent much of 2019 recovering from two back-to-back strokes and cancer.
DeVane went to speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy every day for several hours a day, determined to get her strength back. And it worked: She has some lingering weakness on her left side, but she's mostly back to her normal self.
“That right there in itself gave me the push and the strength to say, ‘God, I see what you’re trying to do,’” said DeVane, who is a member of Moores Creek Missionary Baptist Church in Currie. “I’m going to use my testimony to help as many people as I can.”
DeVane is now a volunteer health promoter for her church, organizing outdoor walks and other fitness opportunities for her congregation. She and Moores Creek Missionary Baptist are part of New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s new Faith Health Network.
The Faith Health Network, which officially began this month, is a collaboration between NHRMC’s healthcare providers and trained volunteers like DeVane from faith communities in the region. The goal, guided by NHRMC's mission, is to address the root causes of health disparities and create better health outcomes for southeastern North Carolinians, focusing on the intersection of physical, mental and spiritual health.
Leaders from NHRMC began planning for the Faith Health Network in 2017 after visiting Wake Forest Baptist Health and learning about their FaithHealth Ministries, said Christy Spivey, NHRMC’s Administrator of Regional Services.
Working with faith communities, the Faith Health Network will train volunteers like DeVane to work as health promoters and will recruit Faith Community Nurses. They will work with healthcare providers from NHRMC to give patients a more well-rounded understanding of how physical, mental and spiritual health work together. The program also allows patients to lean on a trusted member of their faith community during medical issues.
The Faith Health Network will provide resources based on the individual churches’ needs and feedback from the health promoters and Faith Community Nurses.
“The current medical model is based on the medical problem and the solution, and we have kind of negated the spiritual realm, which is so important for healing,” Spivey said. “If your spirit is broken, how do you muster up the strength or energy to heal?”
Reaching the Community
Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Saint Luke AME Zion Church in Wilmington hosted Hump Day Ministries, a Wednesday meal for anyone in the community who wanted or needed to eat. More than 70 people would come each week for a meal, a devotion from the church’s pastor, and a short session featuring information about a community resource.
“We found that, every time we brought in something dealing with health, it really spiked the interest of the community,” said Pamela Evans, director of ministries for Saint Luke and a volunteer health promoter for the Faith Health Network.
Saint Luke is in an impoverished area, and many members of the community don’t have a primary healthcare provider, health insurance, or even transportation to get to a doctor’s office. The Hump Day Ministries sessions helped provide information, Evans said, with sessions on topics such as nutrition, high blood pressure, breast and prostate cancer screenings, and how to apply for Medicaid.
Relying on Trust
Church is sometimes the only place where people in the community that Saint Luke’s serves can get this kind of information, Evans said. It’s also an institution that people often trust.
“One of the fundamental things that makes the Faith Health Network is trust,” Spivey said. “If the nurse or volunteer is a member of the congregation, and that congregation trusts her or him, then they’re more open.”
Spivey calls the work that Faith Community Nurses will do "no-hands nursing," meaning they likely won’t be treating patients, but will instead teach, counsel, and coordinate volunteers like Evans and DeVane. While the Faith Community Nurses are housed in one church and will primarily minister to that congregation -- relying on their established relationships -- they are trained in how to minister to any religion and any belief system.
“Sometimes, you don’t have words, and you can’t fix it for people,” Spivey said. “But you can pray. You can be there and sit quietly. You can read Scripture, or you can light a candle."
For more information on the Faith Health network, visit https://www.nhrmc.org/about/community-resources/faith-health-network.