2/8/2010 - Local pastors urged to be "Health Advocates"
By Michael J. Brooks
Perry County has an obvious health disparity when compared to the rest of the state, said Dr. Ashlee Best, Samford University's clinical instructor of pharmacy practice.
Best, now a Perry County resident, maintains an office in the Perry County Health Department where she supervises Samford's pharmacy residents.
She was one of several speakers at a pastors' lunch held at Judson College on Jan. 30.
"Our population needs health advocates," she said, "and we think the churches can help."
Best shared statistics about a number of health issues, suggesting that the African-American population was at greater risk. The life expectancy of the county's black population is seven years less than the remainder of the state. Alabama has greater incidences of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and strokes than the nation, but Perry County's rates are greater than the state average.
Dr. Charles Sands of Samford's McWhorter School of Pharmacy noted that the Southeast is known as "the stroke belt," and the prime candidates, those aged 45-55, normally don't come to clinics for screening.
"They're too busy making a living to go to the doctor," Sands said. "But pastors are respected and influential, and we think you can help teach people the importance of health."
The Rev. Michael Wilson, director of Samford's Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence, told of the ministers who participate in sabbaticals at Samford through the RCPE.
"Many of these are unhealthy and stressed," he said. "We should give more attention to our bodies which the Bible calls the 'temple of the Holy Spirit.' I think ministers have a special responsibility to set the example ourselves and then to offer a challenge to others to lead healthy lives."
Gretchen McDaniel of the Ida Moffett School of Nursing at Samford shared her own story of congregational involvement.
"I tried to talk my church into having a parish nurse for early health screening," she said. "I saw this as a needed ministry, but my church wasn't interested. We were building a new sanctuary and this took all their attention for two full years. But I kept at it and now I have many success stories I can share."
McDaniel suggested that pastors consider a similar program in their churches as a way to be intentional in congregational wellness.
Frances Ford of Sowing Seeds of Hope led a general brainstorming session following lunch, making a list of suggestions from attendees.
Some of the ideas included community gardens providing fresh vegetables for those who volunteer to work, health screenings in collaboration with the CrossTies food bank, healthy cooking classes in the churches and a community playground in Marion.
The ministers were reminded of two free clinics at the Perry County Health Department: a hypertension clinic each Wednesday afternoon and a diabetes clinic every Thursday afternoon.
"I think we had a great start," Best said. "Pastors and churches can take the lead in making our community better and stronger."
*Perry County visitors at the Jan. 30 luncheon for local pastors included (front row from left) Gretchen McDaniel and Debbie Duke from the Ida Moffett School of Nursing, Dr. Charles Sands of the McWhorter School of Pharmacy, (back row) the Rev. Michael Wilson of the Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence, Samford pharmacy student LaToya Lynn and clinical instructor Ashlee Best. Photo by Bill Mathews. *
* Article courtesy of the Judson College Public Relations Department.