Faith in Rural Health: Started in March 2022, Faith in Rural Health is a collaborative program between the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center (GRHIC), Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM), and McAfee School of Theology. It aims to support the physical, mental and spiritual health of people in rural Georgia counties by coordinating the efforts of clergy, physicians, and health care professionals. The purpose of the three-year project is threefold: to assess areas of need and opportunities for collaboration, to collaborate with existing sites for holistic care modeling and student training, and to create relationships between medical professionals and local clergy for synergetic work. The program is underway in Berrien, Putnam, Toombs and Montgomery counties.
GRHIC, MUSM, and the School of Theology worked with community leaders of Putnam County for the first-of-its-kind Putnam County Collaborative Health Fair on Saturday, Oct. 28, in downtown Eatonton. Paul Byrd, the Faith in Rural Health director, shares his reflection of this meaningful event.
By Paul Byrd, MDiv, BCC, Faith in Rural Health Director
The strength and compassion of Putnam County was on full display Saturday, October 28 at the Putnam County Day of Health, a first-of-its-kind event in the county. This collaborative event, held in Eatonton, was planned through a partnership of the county’s churches and health institutions. In the words of Putnam General Hospital’s CEO Alan Horton, “It was wonderful to see all the churches come together with the different health facilities in support of Putnam County residents … to enrich our community’s well-being.” The day’s events included a Fun Run and 5K, Fall Festival, and Gospel Sing.
Eatonton First United Methodist Church hosted the 7th Annual Steeple Chase as young runners left the starting line of the Fun Run at 8 a.m. The energy there was delightful and the air was filled with children’s laughter. The 5K followed with twice as many participants as the previous year. Runners were of every age and race and came from all over the county.
The health and wellness fair was held at Eatonton’s Main Stage, where services from all over the county and state were on display. New Life Outreach Christian Center, Texas AME, First Baptist Church, First United Methodist Church, and many other churches took part in the fair. Putnam County Family Connection, Putnam General Hospital, Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center, Mercer School of Medicine, Georgia College School of Nursing, and Mercer Medicine Putnam County, and more provided health services and education.
Blood pressures and glucose levels were checked, information on mental health and access to counseling and psychiatry was given. The Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center, in support of its opioid misuse program, gave out Narcan, which reverses opioid overdose; Dr. Brian Wright of Mercer Medicine demonstrated how to administer it and answered questions regarding opioid overdose. CORE and the health department offered immunizations for free to those without insurance. Children filled their passports by visiting kids’ zone vendors — including a bike safety talk by Ian Sellars, a Mercer University School of Medicine student — in hopes of winning a cycling prize of a bike, helmet, and pads. Hearing screening, vision screening, and the American Red Cross blood donation team were set up at Eatonton’s First United Methodist Church just blocks away. Sandwiches, fruit, and bottled water were provided for vendors and visitors alike by Rock of Salvation Ministries, an organization that helps communities with food insecurity.
Charlene Swain, RN, of New Life Outreach Christian Center and Mercer Medicine, reflected on the event: “We reached a lot of people in the community. I witnessed many familiar faces. I was able to tell quite a few people about the services that were offered at the church.” She added, “The participation from the team was awesome. Everyone seemed to be very engaged and very helpful … We worked well as a team.”
The health fair gave way to a lively fall festival and gospel sing in the evening, which featured activity booths for kids, singing groups from churches and organizations all over the city, and food trucks. A combined choir with representatives from various churches kicked off the event.
“What a wonderful day full of good conversations and excellent collaborative work to support Putnam County’s health and healing,” said Craig Williamson, pastor of First Baptist Church Eatonton. “How nice to see resourceful people come together to serve, cherish, and inform the community! May such a grace abound among us.”
Putnam County is truly an amazing place. This event has revealed a new vision of what it looks like for a community to come together, run together, play together, sing together, worship together, and work together to save each other’s lives.
The impact of the day was summed up nicely by Cecil Kilgore, of Reach2Teach and New Life Outreach Christian Center, who said, “It was a great example of how the people in Putnam County can set aside their differences and work together to save lives no matter where you come from. We can learn a lot from each other by having a spirit of love and listening to each other. It is important to know that everyone needs to be heard and respected no matter who you are. We are looking forward to working together in the near future to continue saving lives in Putnam County.”
Pastor Simone Jones, of Texas African Methodist Episcopal Church, expressed the hopes of the planning committee, “It is my prayer that this becomes an annual event in Putnam County. It was a wonderful first collaboration of local pastors uniting the community as one body of Faith.” She continued, “I have received numerous requests to make sure we do this again. I stand amazed at God’s glory and the work He can do through us when we come together. I look forward to 2024’s event being better.”
This is the kind of collaboration between the faith community and health care providers that the organizers hope spreads to include even more churches and clinics in the county. The more it grows, the greater it lives into the vision for this remarkable day, “Saving Lives in Putnam County.”
Pictured: Ian Sellers, Mercer University School of Medicine second-year student, talks about bike safety with a health fair guest.