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Faith in Rural Health Expands Reach in Rural Communities and Implements New Program

In January of 2024, the Faith in Rural Health (FIRH) program partnered with leaders in Coffee and Evans counties to foster collaborations between faith, health, and community leaders. The program, led by the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center (GRHIC), at Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM), aimed to explore the connection between faith and health, and empower leaders in their communities to work together toward enhancing the overall well-being of the residents.

Makayla Paulk, a first-year MUSM student, spent three weeks in Evans County, making significant contributions to the local health care landscape. Working in Dr. Jesse Scott’s clinic and spending time with staff and patients at Good Health Ministries, Makayla immersed herself in the community. She participated in roundtable discussions, led by FIRH program director Paul Byrd, where community strengths, challenges, and collaborative strategies were explored. They also presented at a local Rotary Club meeting.

In Coffee County, first-year MUSM students Garrett Streat and Isait Alvarado worked in different medical contexts but shared insights about the holistic needs expressed by patients. The duo observed the powerful intersection of faith and health in the community, culminating in a dinner at Coffee Regional Medical Center.

A key element of Faith in Rural Health’s approach involved roundtable discussions, bringing together faith leaders, physicians and health care providers, and community members. The FIRH program’s success lies in the genuine collaboration between these community members and the involvement of interns. The seeds planted during these conversations will grow into collaborations that impact rural health in Georgia. The dedication of these students and the collaborative spirit of the communities involved showcase the promise of Faith in Rural Health as a catalyst for lasting change.

Training for Volunteer Chaplains

The Clinical Pastoral Orientation program provides congregation-based clergy introductory training in skills for spiritual care within the clinical space. The meetings focus on understanding hospital culture and organization, exploring personal ministerial strengths and growing edges, developing clinical pastoral identity, and sharpening listening skills. The goal of the program is to equip volunteer chaplains with the skills needed to provide pastoral care more effectively to persons experiencing illness, death, and grief and to hospital staff who give care in emotionally and spiritually stressful contexts. A small group of ministers from several different rural hospitals meet by Zoom every two weeks with experienced clinical pastoral supervisors. In the short two months that they have been meeting, the group has already developed a trusting bond and has begun to sharpen one another’s skills at providing quality spiritual care within the clinical space, further advancing the Faith in Rural Health goal of “bringing faith leaders and health care providers together to collaboratively address the holistic health needs of rural communities.”

Faith In Rural Health Summit

FIRH is excited to host a summit on Friday, October 4, 2024 on Mercer’s Macon campus. The summit aspires to ignite a transformative movement in rural Georgia, where faith leaders and health care providers join forces to drive positive change in health care access and outcomes. This day-long event will explore the theme “Improving Health in Rural Georgia Through Faith-Health Care Collaborations.” The summit will bring health care providers and faith leaders from throughout the state together to showcase the effective collaborations that these groups have initiated to address the pressing health care challenges faced by their rural communities. The summit participants will hear collaborative stories from noted rural physicians and ministers, consider research findings, hear stories from FIRH’s partners around the state, and engage in group dialogue around appropriately and holistically addressing spiritual needs in the clinical space and physical needs in the church. By fostering connections, sharing insights, and empowering communities, the Summit hopes to contribute to a healthier and more vibrant future for rural Georgia counties.