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The Bridges Program is a new and innovative community outreach program
that has been created to build partnerships between the Frederick medical,
religious, and neighborhood communities. The ultimate goal of the program
is to provide timely and easy-to- understand health education materials
and tools to a wide population of people that can assist them on their
journey to improve their family’s health and wellness status.
Bridges is one component of Frederick Regional Health System’s broader
population health strategy and looks for opportunities to incorporate
a health and wellness strategy into the regular routines and rhythms of
a shared community, such as a church, synagogue, or community association.
The initial launch focused on the faith based communities of Frederick
County because of its size and diversity, but the program is now open
to many groups who wish to incorporate a health strategy into their plan
Bridges Kickoff at Jackson Chapel United Method Church in Frederick, MD.
In 2012, Frederick Regional Health System hosted a series of focus groups
which represented a diverse cross section of the community. Those participating
members of these groups noted that some in their community were wary or
distrustful because of historical distrust and perceived inequities in
the healthcare system. Participants also stated that they wanted to see
more of the hospital’s representatives out in their communities,
investing in programs to help them tackle healthcare disparities, preventable
deaths, and higher rates of chronic disease. As the major provider of
health services in Frederick County, Frederick Regional Health System
had to consider new and innovative ways to get into the places where people
live, work and gather.
The program focuses on developing a network of Lay Health Educators who
serve as facilitators and advocates within their own faith community.
To provide guidance and framework, planners looked to a Baltimore program
called “Healthy Community Partnerships” at Johns Hopkins Bayview
Medical Center. Focused on building relationships with the local faith
based and community resources, the successful Baltimore program features
a series of mini-courses on health behaviors and conditions that drive
high utilization of health resources and the increase in chronic illness
and premature death. Added into the series were important consumer topics
such as “Advanced Directives”, and “Communicating with
The Implementation of the Program
There are four subcommittees involved in the program’s implementation
and success. The first, the Steering Committee, creates the business plan
and works with the Health System leadership to make sure that the program
goals are in sync with organizational strategies and the rapidly changing
healthcare environment. The Lay Health Educator Program is just one tactic
used to meet FRHS’s population health goals and establish effective
communications with the communities served.
The next group, the Community Advisory Partnership, plays a critical role
in protecting the mission of the program and ensuring its long term sustainability.
Composed of local faith leaders, community leaders, and graduates of the
Lay Health Educator program,, and a permanent core of hospital staff members.
This group is consulted on effective ways to reach underserved populations,
communities that encounter significant barriers to access and information,
and people who may be at high risk for chronic illness and disease. As
a convenience, meetings are typically held in conjunction with the course
evaluation and graduation of each cohort.
The Curriculum Committee creates and updates all of the Bridges instructional
materials and supplemental resources. The Bridges curriculum is selected
based on current health needs that have been identified through the analysis
of recent health statistics, emerging needs, and basic health, wellness,
and proven prevention. Experienced health professionals, physicians, health
educators, community advocates, case managers and R.N.’s create
flexible, user friendly course materials that can be adapted for a wide
range of audiences with different perceptions of health, illness and disease,
birth and death, the role of family, and the role of faith.
The Lay Health Educators are the heartbeat of the program. LHE’s
learn to break common health terminology about prevention, chronic illness
and disease into small, easy to understand chunks of information. The
10-week, 30 hour course is just the beginning of learning as they share
local experiences and knowledge to overcome common fears, misperceptions
and stereotypes. The volunteers then return to their communities with
high quality tools and resources to help people get the right care, in
the right place, at the right time. They work with individuals and groups
to identify changes that are necessary to reduce their risk for disease,
address social determinants of health, and often collaborate with FRHS
to bring health activities and screenings to remote areas, rural communities,
and areas where there are high rates of preventable disease, utilization
and premature death.
The ultimate success of the program rests on the strength of networking
and partnership. While some have experience as Parish Nurses or serve
in health ministries, prior health experience is not required. All that
is required is that someone has the passion, commitment and skill to communicate
basic health facts and prevention practices to others. Some will present
to groups and others will work one on one. These qualities make a great
Lay Health Educator (LHE).
Two cohorts are conducted each Spring and Fall with a maximum of 15 people
per session. Classes meet one weeknight a week for 10 weeks, for a total
of 30 hours. After graduation, all LHE’s are invited back to network,
share experiences, exchange new facts and test their skills. Many choose
to become involved in Health Fairs, educational seminars, joint projects,
and focus groups.
To enroll in the program, an application and interview are required and
in most cases, an organizational sponsor must be identified through which
the Lay Health Educator will perform the outreach function. In some cases,
we can identify a suitable match for someone with the willingness and
desire to work as part of the Bridges LHE team. The course is free to
all participants and includes all meals, materials, and reproducible course
materials as well as additional handouts, reference tools and publications
that are provided by the course instructors.
Steering Committee Contact Information
Susan Eyler, Project Coordinator,
Janet Harding, Director of Cultural Awareness and Inclusion,
Heather Kirby, Assistant VP of Integrated Care Services,
Rachel Mandel, MD Assistant VP of Medical Affairs,
Rev. Dr. Kay Myers, Director of Pastoral Care,