Rev. Robert Turner has warm memories of doctors making house calls.
“When we had health challenges, our family physician would bring his black bag and come to our house to tend to whatever was going on in our lives,” says Turner, who has been the senior pastor of St John Baptist Church in Columbia, Maryland, since 1993. “That really made a major difference in my life.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Turner harkened back to the house calls of his youth — with a twist.
“I wanted St John, this house of faith, to go to the hospital. We wanted to provide care and support to those that were making such great sacrifices to keep us healthy,” he says.
Turner and his congregation have long and varied ties to Howard County General Hospital (HCGH), a Johns Hopkins community hospital, and to the entire Johns Hopkins institution. Turner’s son received excellent care at HCGH after a severe childhood asthma attack, his daughter participated in Center for Talented Youth (CTY) programs, and his wife, Kimberly Moran Turner, is an ob-gyn at Johns Hopkins Community Physicians and the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Turner is also the founding co-chair of the HCGH Faith Health Advisory Council, which partners with different faith-based organizations to prioritize health and deliver programming at the places of worship. And St John’s was one of the first faith-based organizations to join the hospital’s faith health initiative — Journey to Better Health — more than six years ago.
So when an opportunity came up to support the hospital’s overburdened health care providers and staff, Turner says his congregation couldn’t sit idly by.
“We have to do something to let them know that we see their pain, we see their plight, we appreciate their sacrifice, and we want to do everything we can to be supportive,” Turner says. “We really believe in holistic ministry. For us, it literally means mind, body, and spirit.”
The congregation started with providing meals — even Christmas dinner in 2020 — and video thank-you messages. They supported the hospital’s food pantry and organized a letter-writing campaign. Staff appreciated the handwritten notes so much that they displayed them on hospital huddle boards, says Elizabeth Edsall Kromm, BSPH ’07 (PhD), vice president for Population Health and Advancement, who works closely with Turner and oversees all of HCGH’s community-facing programs, as well as the Howard Hospital Foundation.
“Pre-pandemic, we were partners in health and wellness, and then when the pandemic hit, it was really Rev. Turner who said, ‘What can we do for you guys?’” Kromm remembers. “In the beginning we were helping to make their community healthier. Now, it’s what can they do for us, because we are all one community.”
St John has also prioritized HCGH staff well-being by donating massage chairs and other well-being resources, in addition to facilitating two of the hospital’s recharge rooms. They’re also planning to offer classes focused on mental health in 2023.
“We decided to provide relaxation tools for the hospital so that they could create some recharge rooms for the nurses, the doctors, administrators, anyone who needed a moment,” says Lisa Copelin, who has served as ministry coordinator at St John since 2019. “We thought that this would be a great tool for them to take a moment, step back, and recharge themselves so that they can go back out there and give the best care to the next patient and the next patient.”
St John has also worked to provide the community with a full-service COVID clinic five days a week, facilitating vaccinations for more than 30,000 people in addition to providing flu shots, booster shots, and COVID tests.
“There’s a pretty long history and there’s research that supports the role of faith-based organizations in public and community health, and their power for social change. They really can improve the health outcomes of a community, and I think we’re showing that here in Howard County,” Kromm says.
The relationship between HCGH and St John isn’t trust building, she adds. It’s the hospital showing it’s an organization worthy of the church’s trust and that is values a true partnership.
St John’s commitment of nearly $23,000 to HCGH staff well-being in the last two years shows the congregation has found value in that partnership.
And HCGH values St John’s more than 2,000 members, too. The hospital nominated the church for Howard County’s Rise to the Challenge Award, which it won this fall. Kromm says it was not only an opportunity to spotlight one of HCGH’s longtime collaborators, but also to recognize that many of the church’s members are hospital employees, as well.
“It was very humbling because sometimes you do things and you don’t know who’s watching you,” Copelin says. “It was heartwarming to know that so many people saw us, recognized our good work, and wanted to acknowledge us with that award.”
For Turner, the nomination was energizing and motivation for his congregation to do even more.
“To the hospital,” he says, “I’ll say like my son and daughter say to us: ‘You haven’t seen anything yet.’”
Topics: Friends of Johns Hopkins Medicine, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Howard County General Hospital, Strengthening Partnerships
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