New Hope Baptist Church
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM) - It's a fact that African Americans are 30% more likely to die from heart disease and cancer.
But a new initiative that reaches out to Grand Rapids African American churches is trying to help change that. New Hope Baptist Church isn't just encouraging commitment to a healthy soul, the pastors are also encouraging a commitment to a healthy heart.
"We want to see you signed up. We want to see you participate. We want to see you getting your temple in shape. Amen? Amen." Pastor Dallas Lenear is reminding members to participate in the Body and Soul Blues Challenge and it's working.
Annette McMillan is one of over a hundred members of new hope's congregation signing up.
"Because I need to challenge myself. And spiritually, it's a spiritual thing, but physically and for health sake, it's a must for me, so this is a challenge," says McMillan. "Because I'm not going to do it on my own so this is a challenge."
The Body and Soul Blues Challenge was developed by the American Cancer Society and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan in an effort to reach African Americans who are at a high risk for developing heart disease and cancer. One of the reasons why is because of a large gap in health care that reaches beyond the ability to pay or see a doctor.
"It's just connected to a large history of disenfranchisement on the part of African Americans within so many social institutions," explains Pastor Lanear. He admits it comes down to trust. "We need to make sure that institutions that are providing care are doing it in a way that is equitable, fair, and with concern for the individual. But at the same time, the individuals have to be educated in taking full responsibility for their own health."
And that's where the Body and Soul Blues Challenge comes in. By reaching out to churches like New Hope Baptist, health care providers are able to connect with individuals who may not make seeing a doctor a priority.
"We are an institution of trust. And people listen to their pastors and they listen to their brothers and sisters that are seated next to them in the pews and they know that these are people who love them and whatever they share with them will be for their own good." says Lenear.
Ernestine Tolbert is one of those members. She's not only a Health Minister at New Hope Baptist, but she's also a registered nurse and gives the health assessments required for enrolling in the Body and Soul Blues Challenge. "By me being a nurse, I always have an assessment. Do you have a history of high blood pressure? Are you on medication? Have you taken your medication? When was the last time you saw your doctor?"
But the challenge goes beyond just a health assessment. It encourages exercise and eating right and motivates members with a little healthy competition.
New Hope Baptist is competing against 18 other churches in the Grand Rapids African American community for grant money for their health ministry and, of course, Pastor Lenear says bragging rights. "I'm prophesying here today that New Hope is going to win."
But Cle Jackson of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan says the real winners are the ones who through this challenge are able to improve their health which also lowers health care costs. "When you have an individual like that, you can save thousands of dollars a year just based on that one individual and not just on a prescription perspective, but the ER utilization and outpatient utilization and all of those other sorts of costs associated with having a chronic health condition."
This is the second year for the Body and Soul Blues Challenge. It goes for ten weeks and starts May 5th.