The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” For Franciscan Health, our mission — continuing Christ’s ministry in our Franciscan tradition — informs our strategy in tackling the difficult socioeconomic challenges facing society today.
Simply put, the ministry of Jesus is one founded upon love of others. Our decisions are guided every day by the principle that every human being is formed in the image and likeness of God, and thus, deserves treatment with dignity and respect. When operating within this framework, there is no room for disparities in care or in health outcomes. As the leader in healthcare in northern Indiana, Franciscan Health embraces its role in leading efforts to eliminate these disparities.
The year 2020 was like no other, with the pandemic and social issues dominating attention. While Franciscan Health has always had a focus on serving the poor and disenfranchised, in mid-2020, Franciscan Health Michigan City formalized its efforts through a multipoint plan to address disparities by race and ethnicity in the communities we serve. Although the plan relies on internal education and training to effect change internally, a large part of the effort is focused on community health improvement. Out of this effort grew a focused strategy to positively impact disparities in health outcomes across our region.
People are also reading…
Late in 2020, we established a new position, community health improvement coordinator, to help plan and lead our efforts. The obvious starting point was COVID. Since delivering the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in LaPorte County on Dec. 18, 2020, the staff at Franciscan Health Michigan City administered tens of thousands of shots at its COVID-19 vaccine clinic. Staff has also continued its tireless work to treat COVID-19 patients as the pandemic has surged, relying on a dedication to the Franciscan mission.
Our community health improvement team in conjunction with our vaccination team conducted walking education and vaccinations rounds in targeted neighborhoods in Michigan City. From there, the effort moved to education and awareness sessions on Sundays at several local Baptist churches. This year, through a grant via our partnership with Beacon Health, a mobile vaccine clinic will be started with three community health workers providing education and vaccinations to underserved populations in the county.
From the success of these efforts, we quickly pivoted to another leading chronic condition in the black community: diabetes. Our “Fan Out Diabetes” initiative presented education, blood glucose screening and follow up to parishioners. This new outreach was a natural fit to our existing Food Prescription Program, which provides healthy and nutritious foods to low-income diabetic patients and their families through a partnership with The Salvation Army of Michigan City. Franciscan is targeting food insecurity in Lake County as well through Mobile Food Markets with the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana.
Other needs of the community have not been ignored. In 2021, the hospital celebrated the reimagination of its former home on Homer Street, welcoming new services. The Prenatal Assistance Program opened its doors in December as a hub for prenatal/postpartum services; enhanced access and navigation of public assistance programs, connection to doctors and educational programming, clinical health and wellness education, peer support and the opportunity to work with a clinical therapist. This service joins Prenatal Assistance Programs already operating in Crown Point and Hammond.
The program takes a holistic approach to mitigate the health, economic and social risk factors that contribute to high infant mortality rates in LaPorte County. Prenatal programing will expand in 2022 with a two-year, $500,000 grant from the Indiana Department of Health to further reduce infant mortality by establishing Project Swaddle, a program that utilizes paramedicine to improve prenatal access to education and care for expecting moms in remote parts of LaPorte County.
Early this year, a Health Equity Advisory Committee was established with representatives from across the community. The group will help guide efforts to close disparity gaps in health access and outcomes by race and ethnicity. Another health outreach event that will restart this year after a pandemic-caused hiatus is the Black Barbershop Initiative, where Franciscan Health will once again partner to provide education and health screenings to barbershop customers. Additionally, Franciscan collaborated with the Michigan City YMCA and Michigan City Police Department to sponsor Walk with a Doc, a walk/run every Wednesday for 19 weeks that provided educational information from a health care professional.
Franciscan Health partnered with other community organizations to deliver assistance, too, providing new linens to PADS Sacred Heart Homeless Shelter and diapers to Women’s Care Center, Dunebrook and the Salvation Army. Franciscan’s annual Diaper Drive continues to expand with the planned creation of the Region’s National Diaper Bank Network site in Hammond.
Franciscan supports the Open Door Community Alliance (ODCA) by providing office space and collaboration. The ODCA provides medication and medical device assistance to those in need. The Franciscan Health Occupational Health and Working Well departments also met with local business leaders and local schools to support and review reopening plans amid the pandemic.
At the start of the 2021-22 school year, Franciscan purchased backpacks and school supplies to provide 500 stocked backpacks to the Michigan City Area Schools and 100 stocked backpacks to the local Catholic elementary schools. Additionally, 50 stocked backpacks were donated to children at Sandcastle Shelter and Stepping Stone Shelter For Women.
As you can see, we have taken our responsibility to address disparities in health access and outcomes in our community very seriously. We remain committed to closing these gaps and eliminating these shocking and inhuman injustices, as described by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., for the betterment of our entire Region.
Dean Mazzoni is president and CEO for Franciscan Health Michigan City.