BY SUSAN ERLER
A member of Mission of Jesus Christ church in East Chicago, Erika Watkins might have passed up a church-sponsored health clinic except that her husband had just been diagnosed with diabetes.
"That made me go. It helped me to understand how our lives had changed," Watkins said. "It's great hospitals are going outside their four walls to reach people who otherwise wouldn't come to them."
The clinic was part of the St. Catherine Hospital community outreach program, STOP Diabetes.
The hospital works with as many as five churches a year to deliver a six-part program that includes screenings and informational sessions and referrals for those diagnosed with diabetes.
The St. Catherine program targets Hispanic and African American populations to raise awareness about diabetes, which strikes minorities disproportionately nationwide.
Churches have proven to be a valuable partner in the effort, said Khisha Anderson, St. Catherine Hospital community outreach specialist.
"One of the reasons is that people tend to listen more closely to someone they already trust, and they already trust their pastor with their spiritual guidance," Anderson said.
Communication lines already established in the church help to spread the health care message, Mission of Jesus Christ Pastor Willie D. Johnson said.
"That's one of the reasons they chose the church," Johnson said.
Of the approximately 125 members of his church, "each one knows other people. You're able to reach so many different people," Johnson said.
Many hospitals use the "parish nurse" concept to deliver health care information, said Douglas Leonard, president of the Indiana Hospital Association.
"There are many studies that show the nurse is a highly trusted professional," Leonard said. "The hospitals provide the nurses to faith communities for screenings, to answer questions and to make referrals."
At a December workshop, the Methodist Hospitals teamed with the American Heart Association to train church volunteers in strategies for preventing heart disease and stroke prevention.
About 30 volunteers from more than a dozen area churches took part, up from just five churches two years ago, American Heart Association spokesperson Mary Pat Leonard said.
Since Search Your Heart Workshops began in 1996, more than 15,000 churches across the country have participated, Leonard said.
The St. Catherine Hospital STOP Diabetes program was awarded the 2008 Indiana Healthy Cities and Communities Award, which recognizes health promotion initiatives that are innovative and successful in improving the health of residents.