By Ava O’Malley
By the end of 2023, South and West Side churchgoers will have access to new digital healthcare technology.
The Rev. Henry A. Barlow, DTh, has founded the Faith 1 Network, a coalition of ten churches on the South and West Sides of Chicago that are partnering with hospitals, healthcare education services, and mental health services to improve quality of life and wellness.
He recalled a troubling conversation with a young man in his congregation. Rev. Barlow, pastor at Morning Star Baptist Church in Bronzeville, asked a parishioner in his early twenties about a large neck tattoo.
“I was just curious; I asked him, ‘What are you going to do about that tattoo when you get to 55, 60 years old?’” Rev. Barlow said.
The young man answered that he didn’t believe he would live past 50.
Rev. Barlow wanted to do something about that.
Healthcare information for those left behind
Rev. Barlow’s ministries emphasize family values and the best quality of life.
One of Faith 1 Network’s first initiatives connecting people to equitable healthcare rolled out in the form of interactive kiosks, complete with large touch screens. The monitors serve as channels for health advice and educational content, delivering necessary information about health conditions and providing assistance with locating primary care providers. People will be able to find screens stationed in community rooms at five of the ten Faith1 Network churches, with a goal to install and make accessible all five before Thanksgiving.
PatientPoint Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity launched by Cincinnati-based PatientPoint, a company providing healthcare information to practitioners’ offices nationwide, supplied the kiosks to connect people in marginalized communities to information that is life improving and, in some cases, life saving.
Many of Rev. Barlow’s parishioners are Black senior citizens and lack primary care physicians in the neighborhood. PatientPoint Foundation’s services can help fill that gap, connecting them to information and in-person care providers.
Each monitor costs $2,000. Rev. Barlow sought funding help from State Senator Mattie Hunter (D-3rd), who drew from State funds slated for mental health services.
“This type of free service will bring essential health information ¾ including mental health, nutrition, and more¾to a trusted space where our communities congregate, helping to improve health literacy and outcomes,” said Hunter. “I have worked with Rev. Barlow for years, and I am pleased we will be able to bring these health kiosks to local churches through funding I’ve given to Ada S. McKinley for several areas of focus, including mental health services.”
Ada S. McKinley Community Services is a corporation that educates and prepares people for employment through behavior health services, community support, and youth development.
“Higher rates of underlying health conditions, less access to preventive care, and barriers to treatment have burdened the Black community for decades,” Hunter said. “Placing health kiosks in churches is a step toward improving healthcare access and education.”
In Chicago, many majority Black neighborhoods are considered medically underserved, with considerable shortages of primary care providers. These areas also lack access to specialists, physical therapists, and mental health professionals, contributing to an overall lack of wellness and health.
“This is what I’ve learned over the years as a faith leader having my foot in the door of healthcare organizations,” said Rev. Barlow. “One of the things that needs to be talked about is the best quality of life. Especially when it comes down to people of color. Quality of life and family values will penetrate into the minds and the hearts of young people, where we see so much devastation and destruction.”
Rev. Barlow highlighted the importance of mental healthcare and the connection between stress and disease.
“I know from talking to [parishioners who are] grandmothers and grandfathers about some of the issues that they have, which are not necessarily caused by the ‘physical conditions,’” he explained. “It has caused them to develop all kinds of things: number one, stress. Stress is the number one killer in the world.”
The Rev. Floyd D. James, Greater Rock Missionary Baptist Church’s pastor of nearly 40 years, watched his community suffer during the COVID-19 pandemic. Making a change for more equitable healthcare in the Black community has been on his and his parishioners’ minds ever since. Rev. James noticed the high level of mistrust towards healthcare systems post-pandemic.
“PatientPoint and the Faith1 network all began to help bring the community out from having not received the care that they needed during COVID,” said Rev. James.
Having kiosks in churches, where many find trust and community, offers comfort that a typical doctor’s office setting does not always supply.
“It’s amazing now because I’m seeing a whole lot of medical entities that are trying to get involved now in the community to bring programs and medical services to the community,” Rev. James said. “That’s a good thing. But we’ve got to try and move because we’re so far behind. I would like to see them do even more to bring the mental health services back because those things are still missing.”
For mental health in particular, Rev. James is hoping to see services that speak to the needs of trauma victims and young people.
“Our kids in this community have seen so many things happen and yet no one has sat down and dealt with that” with them, Rev. James said. “So they’re experiencing and maintaining and retaining it, and subsequently it will have some effect on them down the road.”
Creating a community of health advocates
“The screens are a long-term investment, but the people are the long-term solution,” said Denyse Ferguson, CEO of PatientPoint Foundation, who said the foundation’s goal is empowering people to become informed health advocates with access to resources they need.
“Through our philanthropic efforts and our partnerships, we are making investments in the community,” said Andre Williams, COO of the foundation. “But it’s the people in a community that are empowered to take hold and grasp of this platform, the content, that remote patient monitoring, and the health coaches to help ambassadors to feel their path to wellness, because at the end of the day, this is about one’s path to wellness.”
Ferguson added that PatientPoint Foundation offers two tiers of people bringing healthcare: Community Health Ambassadors and Health Champions.
Community Health Ambassadors, in this case church pastors, maintain a strong connection between the community and PatientPoint and relay feedback and requests for engagement. Health Champions serve as patient advocates and navigators, journeying with people through the screens.
According to Williams, data collection and analysis form a “serious and passionate” side of the work. PatientPoint Foundation’s team, comprising “probably some of the best health equity experts and health disparity experts in the United States recognized by the CDC and HHS,” will collect data from community interactions with an array of survey and tracking models.
“They probably have 60 to 75 years of work in the health equity space, specifically around health disparities and Black and Brown communities, “said Williams.
Health information’s impact will extend outside of the church.
“Those interactive screens are like the Encyclopedia Britannica of all things health,” William said. “It goes from the letter A to the letter Z, any topic you would even imagine to address. The cool thing about the interactive screens is that, in essence, you can scan a code or text information home for a spouse, a grandkid you’re taking care of, or neighbor.”
For Faith 1 Network and Rev. Barlow of Morning Star Baptist Church, 3993 S. King Dr., call (773) 285-8111. To contact Hunter, log on to www.senatorhunter.com or call (312) 949-1908. To contact Rev. James and the Greater Rock Missionary Baptist Church, (773) 722-7701, log on to grmbchurch.org or call (773) 722-7701. For Ada S. McKinley Community services, log on to www.adasmckinley.org or call (312) 554-0292. For PatientPoint, log on to www.patientpointfdn.org or call (513) 655-5549.