The Congregational Health and Education Network has been working with hundreds of local congregations to improve health literacy in minority communities.
“Health literacy is a very tricky thing; it’s the ability of an individual to understand information given to them by a provider or health care expert and the ability to apply that information to whatever they’re advising you to do,” said Dr. Joseph Webb, the chief executive officer at Nashville General Hospital. “Unfortunately, there are many people who cannot do that effectively, they do not connect. … I’ve seen some very well-educated people have trouble absorbing and processing what a health provider has advised them on.”
Only 12% of the population is health literate, Webb said. He said he believes marginalized populations are health literate in single-digit percentages.
“Our community disproportionately is affected by access to health care, understanding and accessing health care, being able to afford medicine, having access to fresh fruits and vegetables,” said the Rev. Lisa Hammonds of St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church. “All of those things play a part in someone’s health, and I consider our physical health just as important as our spiritual health. We’re holistic beings.”
CHEN is a 501©(3) tax-exempt corporation, working in collaboration with Nashville General, that is gaining prominence as it acquires resources to assist its mission of serving underserved communities. It works with local congregations to organize events, raise awareness of health issues and create programs that advance CHEN’s core values.
Hundreds of people have been able to access services, healthy food and vaccinations with the help of CHEN’s representatives.
“We have almost 300 active congregants seeking health care through CHEN, we have over 100 congregational partners right now, CHEN just provided for 140 Davidson County residents who have been infected with COVID-19 who are behind in their rent, mortgage and utilities, and we’ve been able to vaccinate more than 1,000 individuals,” Hammonds said.
CHEN sponsored the Love Thy Neighbor vaccine campaign in November at Nashville General. Seventy-five people received their first COVID vaccines.
“It was a very successful event,” Webb said.
Webb said he hopes to use CHEN to address the social determinants that cause inequity among marginalized populations.
“In order to change how the social determinants of health are distributed ... you cannot gain health equity until there is a more equitable distribution of determinants,” he said. “If you’re going to redistribute the social determinants of health … then that’s what you go after. You can create a longitudinal impact over time of individuals who have engaged in educational opportunities and attainment. Over time you can have a cohort of people start to improve the impact on their health.”
Religious congregations have a strong place in helping to combat health illiteracy and health inequity.
“CHEN is engaging the faith-based community, which is essentially for many ethnicities representing their entire community,” Webb said. “African Americans historically have a greater propensity to be engaged with or influenced by their faith-based organizations than other ethnicities. You can find that in the research.”