Patricia Bright is getting help with managing her Type 2 diabetes in a place she never thought she would -- her church.
At the Family Worship Center in Yemassee, Bright learned how to manage her weight by eating healthier. She said she's dropped 10 dress sizes and, because she's lost so much weight, no longer has to take insulin twice a day.
Bright said her success is due in part to Beaufort Memorial Hospital's new Transitional Health Program, which has trained members of area churches with medical backgrounds to help monitor the health of its patients with chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, sickle cell anemia or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
"Without the transitional care program at the church, I don't think I would be as focused with my weight, eating and exercising," the 39-year-old Yemassee resident said.
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The free program, which began in August and is open to the public, provides equipment to medical professionals who volunteer at area churches. At designated times each week, the volunteers check blood pressure, blood sugars, weight and other vital signs to catch possible problems for those with lifelong or chronic illnesses early -- before hospitalization is required.
Training began this summer at Family Worship Center in Yemassee, Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Dale, Tabernacle Baptist Church in Beaufort and St. Helena Baptist Church on St. Helena Island. Organizers hope the program will expand to more churches.
The program was started in response to a new health care policy that begins next year when Medicare and some private insurance companies will no longer pay for patients who have chronic diseases if they return to the hospital within 30 days of a previous hospitalization. The program is funded by a two-year Duke Endowment grant totaling $175,000, said Megan Meyer, Beaufort Memorial's associate director of special gifts.
If the body is "God's temple," there's no better place to care for it than a church, said nurse Latoya Bryan of Yemassee.
Before the hospital partnership, the Family Worship Center established a health program that educated people, such as Bright, on symptoms and preventive measures for extreme blood pressures and diabetes. After joining forces with the hospital, the church is offering even more assistance because of the equipment provided and record keeping system, Bryan said. Findings from each patient's blood pressure, blood sugar or weight are recorded on a card to share with physicians.
"When you have a program like what (Beaufort Memorial) is doing now, it is wonderful to go to places outside of a hospital for health care," said Bryan, a 35-year-old nurse manager at National Health Care in Bluffton. "If you are caring for the soul, you need to care for the whole being -- the mind, body, and spirit. I was ecstatic to get it started, and I love being a part of it."
Another positive aspect of the program is the familiarity of the caregivers to the parishioners, said Bryan, who also gets her blood pressure checked through the program.
"Often they are not comfortable asking their doctor," she said, "but I am their church sister and they will talk to me."
The role of the volunteer caregivers isn't to substitute for the care of a doctor, but rather to watch out for warning signs.
For example, "with some pulmonary conditions, a sudden weight gain might indicate excess fluid in the lungs, which is not healthy," said Cynthia Coburn-Smith, manager of the LifeFit Community Health Improvement Program at Beaufort Memorial Hospital. "If this is noted, the church member would strongly be encouraged to visit his or her primary care doctor or clinic right away."
Organizers hope the program will branch out to include barbershops and beauty salons if enough Beaufort Memorial volunteers are available, Coburn-Smith said.
Plans call for the transitional care program to become a normal operation for the hospital.
"We are hoping to keep the churches involved in the screenings as long as they are willing to do them," Coburn-Smith said.