Faith and Health Partnerships
Promoting Health Equity For All
July 16, 2021

By Rev Kirsten Peachey
Vice President, Faith Outreach, Mission and Spiritual Care

Advocate Aurora Health helps people live well. That means everyone—especially those who are 
most vulnerable or historically neglected and disinvested. Helping people live well means intentionally and rigorously addressing the social conditions that make it possible for everyone to have a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. 
As a member of the Healthcare Anchor Network, a national collaboration of leading health care systems, Advocate Aurora Health joined 38 other health institutions across 45 states and Washington, D.C. in September 2020 in formally recognizing racism as a public health crisis. Racism results in generational trauma and poverty, while also unquestionably causes higher rates of illness and death in black and brown communities. We have seen — in its rawest form — how the trauma of systemic racism adds to the historical injustices that have disproportionately affected communities of color. We commit to taking specific actions to ameliorate this injustice.

In its statement, the nearly 40 health institutions also affirmed that “In our communities, there is also resilience, innovation, a tradition of faith and a spirit of unity that manages to thrive even under the weight of this systemic burden. Imagine the potential for our communities with dramatically improved social and economic conditions and health outcomes.”
We know that faith communities of all religious traditions are one of the sources and drivers of this resilience, innovation and spirit of hope and strength. Faith communities bring:

  • Hopeful Imagination: The ability to draw from our scriptures and sacred teachings to envision a world of peace, justice, and abundance for all
  • Love: The power of positive, mutual, courageous, compassionate, just relationships to transform and heal
  • Spirit Power: The will to reach for what seems impossible because we are rooted in a Source that is beyond our human limitations.

This special issue focuses on Health Equity and the work we can do together to ensure health and well-being for all in our communities by calling on our unique and powerful capacities as agents of healing and hope. We hope the resources in this toolkit will strengthen what you are already doing, and we invite you into conversation and partnership in this important work.
Issue Highlights

Health equity: a fair and just opportunity for all

How can faith-based organizations promote health equity?

Health equity in action: What everyone can do

Health equity bulletin insert and worship slide

July is Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

Resources for you and your community 
What is health equity?

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, "To build a Culture of Health, we must first ensure everyone has the basics to be healthy. And when it comes to expanding opportunities for health, thinking the same approach will work universally is like expecting everyone to be able to ride the same bike."
Health equity: a fair and just opportunity for all
Health equity means we all have a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible, no matter who we are, where we live, or how much money we make.

According to the CDC, chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stroke, tend to be more common for people of color, people in low-income neighborhoods, and others whose life conditions place them at risk for poor health.

Barriers, such as racism, unsafe housing, polluted air and water, and food deserts, contribute to these health disparities.

According to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report. "After all, it's hard to be healthy without access to good jobs and schools and, safe, affordable homes."
How can faith-based organizations promote health equity?

Faith-based organizations are a key partner in promoting health equity in communities, according to the National Academy of Sciences.

"Working to tackle unemployment, concentrated poverty, and school dropout rates can seem overwhelming, but when actors in the community—including faith communities—work together, communities have the power to promote health equity through enduring community-driven interventions," according to the NAS "Communities in Action" Faith-Based Organizations report.

Faith-based organizations can promote health equity by:

  • Learning about social determinants of health - the multiple, interconnected, and complex factors, such as poverty, unsafe housing, and structural racism, that allow health disparities to persist in our communities.

  • Partnering with health care providers, like Advocate Aurora Health, to access to important services, such as dental care, addiction treatment, or domestic violence services for community members. See information about Advocate Aurora's Local Service Guide below.
Access important resources for you and your community

The Advocate Aurora Health Local Services Guide allows you to find free and low-cost options for food, safe housing, child care, transportation and more.
Health equity in action: What everyone can do

  • Become a Culture of Health leader, a leadership development opportunity for people working in every field and profession who want to use their influence to advance health and equity.

Courtesy: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Health equity means giving everyone a fair shot at being as healthy as they can be. (Artwork courtesy of MN Pollution Control Agency)
‘There’s a person in need, so provide’: How Milwaukee Bread of Healing Clinic helps those who are uninsured
Courtesy: Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

This article highlights the work of the Bread of Healing Clinic, located at several churches in Milwaukee, including Cross Lutheran Church. There, Advocate Aurora Health Faith and Health Partnerships supports a faith community nurse and community connector who promote health equity in the community through outreach and a wide range of programs and services.

When Dr. Barbara Horner-Ibler was in residency at Advocate Aurora-Sinai Hospital, she began to notice a gap that needed to be filled.

While patients were able to get treated at the hospital, they were being discharged into the community with almost no affordable resources, Horner-Ibler said. After seeing people return with the same treatable conditions, she decided enough was enough.

“There’s a person in need, so provide,” Horner-Ibler said. “It’s our responsibility to take care of each other.”

Horner-Ibler co-founded Bread of Healing Clinic with fellow physician Dr. Tom Jackson and nurse and clinic manager Rick Cesar in 2000. Their goal? To provide medical services to underserved communities.

The clinic, located in the basement of Cross Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, administers the Community MedShare program, which provides free and low-cost prescription drugs to those without insurance. It has two other locations, and its partners include United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Aurora Health Care.

The clinic also is a main hub of the Milwaukee Free and Community Clinic Collaborative, a group of community-based centers that offer free and low-cost medical services.

Advocate Trinity Hospital and South Side Health Transformation Project receive grant

The State of Illinois awarded funding to the South Side Health Transformation Project, a coalition comprised of Advocate Trinity Hospital and 12 other health care organizations on Chicago’s South Side.

With these funds, the coalition plans to establish a not-for-profit organization, the South Side Healthy Community Organization (SSHCO), to work closely with community members on an ambitious five-year strategy to build health equity and improve the well-being and longevity of all South Side residents.

Visit the coalition website to learn more.
15 Minutes of Health - Promotores de Salud
By: Suzanne 'Sam' Martinez, Congregational Outreach Coordinator, Northern Region, Advocate Health Care

On June 13, 2021, a new group of "15 Minutes of Health, Promotores de Salud" (Faith Community Lay Health Care Volunteers) completed their training. This initiative is part of the Cultivating Health Ministries faith-based health and wellness volunteer program convened by Community Crosswalk that integrates and builds on congregational health promotion work that Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital has been involved in for many years.

Cultivating Health Ministries (CHM) is a community collaboration to develop and implement a health and services program primarily for older adults and the LatinX population, through six McHenry County churches. The group was launched in 2020 through the support of the Transformation Grant, awarded to Community Crosswalk by the Community Foundation of McHenry County.

15 Minutes of Health, Promotores de Salud are a team of lay volunteers trained by Marisol Lazaro, BSN, RN of Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital and Elizabeth Rios, APRN, Director of CHM. The program focuses on providing health and wellness education within the faith community, primarily for LatinX residents in several parishes, including St. Thomas in Crystal Lake, SS. Peter and Paul in Cary, Church of the Holy Apostles in McHenry, and St. Joseph Church in Harvard. 

These Promotores de Salud give concise educational talks at the churches after worship services, at committee gatherings, or at parish social events. Participants gain deeper understanding and knowledge in areas that directly impact their health and well-being. Through these sessions, they learn more about their specific illnesses. Through this learning, they are also encouraged and inspired to live healthier lifestyles. 

Passionate about health equity, nursing development

By: Krissy Lillie, Public Affairs and Marketing Leader for Advocate Aurora Health’s northern Wisconsin region

Since April Leon was 14 years old, she’s dreamed of becoming a nurse. In fact, her drive for teaching and nursing eventually blossomed into her dream job as a nursing professional development specialist, supporting Advocate Aurora Health’s northernmost Wisconsin communities.

Though she exemplifies nursing excellence in her daily role, she has taken it upon herself to build bridges in the Hispanic community. She recently helped develop a nursing leadership course on unconscious bias for her fellow Advocate Aurora team members and represents the organization in various Hispanic community initiatives.

“Everyone holds below-the-surface beliefs or social stereotypes,” Leon said. “As health care leaders, we need to be aware of these unconscious biases when taking care of patients. Developing this course, seeing it valued in the organization and watching leaders learn and grow only furthers my desire to mentor and continue advocacy work while helping our organization.”

Leon uses these skills daily while leading Advocate Aurora’s clinical nurse mentorship program and facilitating a graduate nurse residency program, which supports newly hired graduate nurses and assists them with the transition from student nurse to professional nurse.

Leon’s participation in nursing and community organizations keep her going. In fact, she’s now a leader in Advocate Aurora’s efforts to vaccinate underserved populations, including those in the Hispanic community. Not only was she nominated to help start up Advocate Aurora’s COVID-19 clinic in Green Bay, she also is co-leading community COVID-19 listening sessions with Hispanic community leaders and is dedicated to help northeast Wisconsin residents take their shot to end the pandemic.

“I want to be a role model for my daughter, my family and other Hispanic community members to look up to,” added Leon. “I plan to earn my nursing professional development certification later this year and do not intend to stop there. There’s so much more I want to do.”

Raising awareness of minority mental health
It's O.K Not to Be O.K.

By Rev. Ashley Whitaker, Chaplain Fellow for Ethics, Advocate Aurora Health, and a Staff Chaplain focused on Staff Support and Palliative Care at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL.

In early July, Naomi Osaka spoke personally and powerfully about her experience of mental health struggles in a TIME article titled, “It’s O.K. Not to Be O.K.” She spoke of several lessons she learned since choosing to forego the French Open press conferences and focus on her mental health. These intertwining lessons include that everyone either suffers from mental health challenges or knows someone who does, and the divisiveness in our world compounds the challenges we face as individuals and as members of our society.
"Naomi Osaka" by Carine06 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
For example, Osaka has been outspoken on issues of racism throughout her career as a person of color in a majority-white sport. In this article and others, she discusses the pride she feels as a successful athlete of color, while her commitment to anti-racism has led to criticism. As Osaka describes, “it seems natural that these two topics overlap.”

Research has shown how people of color seeking appropriate and meaningful mental health care face barriers and/or stigmas, disparities in access and insurance, and a lack of providers of color who better understand their patients’ experiences. The effects of systemic racism in our country only compound the challenges and pain people of color face in our health care systems, especially when seeking treatment for mental health struggles, as Osaka did.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states that culture and identity must be central to the conversations we have about mental health and mental health care. Cultural competence in a care provider, including understanding the impact of cultural differences in caregiving relationships and incorporating those differences into a care plan, can significantly improve care. Culture, race, and identity are not incidental to health care; they are central to the holistic health and wellbeing of all people.

All people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and we have a duty to care for one another (Philippians 2:4). We must be advocates for good mental health care for all people. Support legislative efforts to improve the affordability and accessibility of health care, including mental health care, by contacting your legislators and following reputable news sources regarding health care legislation. If you are a health care provider or work in health care, adhere to the Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services Standards developed by the US Department of Health and Human Services and do your part to ensure your workplace provides compassionate, just, and quality health care for all people. Above all, always seek to grow in your understanding of the many complex issues that affect health care in our society, particularly for historically under-resourced communities. Listen to minoritized voices and center them in your reading, listening, and studying. As Osaka says in her article, “I do hope that people can relate and understand it’s O.K. to not be O.K., and it’s O.K. to talk about it.”
July is Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month
In May of 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives announced July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, also known as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Mental Health Month.

It was created to bring awareness to the unique struggles that underrepresented groups face in regard to mental illness in the US. Bebe Moore Campbell was an American author, journalist, teacher, and mental health advocate  who worked tirelessly to shed light on the mental health needs of the Black community and other underrepresented communities.

Learn more at

A multi-part, online, interactive, and adaptable course created by the Council for Health and Human Services Ministries.

Reason to Have Hope is geared for a group learning environment, although you can go through it individually as well. It includes history, current events, theology, stories of resilience, and the intersections of race and social issues to help members of faith-based organizations and local churches learn from not only the material, but each other.

This virtual course is intended to support people in all settings of the church to gain a deeper understanding of the harm that racism and white supremacy have on health and well-being. The material focuses on the systemic causes of health disparities for People of African Descent, Indigenous Peoples, and other People of Color, and how the work of health equity is tied to liberation for all.
Health Equity Bulletin Insert and Worship Slide

Faith communities can be places of hope and healing, where we practice spiritual life together, build positive and loving relationships and work to bring justice and healing into our world. According to the National Academy of Sciences, faith-based organizations not only have great potential to positively impact congregants’ health—they are well-positioned to promote the health of those living in their communities, as well. 

Download bulletin insert:

Download worship slide
How faith communities can promote health equity

What is health equity? How can my faith community promote health equity? How can I share free and low-cost options for food, safe housing, child care, transportation and more with those in my community?

Learn how by downloading this flyer.
Building a healthier future for all

Healthy People 2030 sets data-driven national objectives to improve health and well-being over the next decade. Healthy People 2030 includes 355 core - or measurable - objectives as well as developmental and research objectives.

Learn how you can use Healthy People in your faith community or organization by downloading this fact sheet.
Want to Hear From You!

We hope you find this update helpful as you promote the health of your members and community. Please contact Cindy Novak if you have questions or topics you'd like us to address. Thank you!
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