Rochester Caregivers Of Color Are Finding Support Through Faith-Based Health Initiatives


closeup red heart rubber with stethoscope medical instrument on vintage white wood table for love memorial or take care and treat heart disease for strength of health with space

Rochester health organizations are collaborating with local faith communities in an effort to reach out and provide support to family caregivers in communities of color. The idea for collaboration stemmed from the Chicago-based nonprofit AgeOptions, which offers a grant-funded program called Caring Together, Living Better.

The program is a partnership of faith-based and community organizations dedicated to supporting families caring for an older loved one. Caring Together, Living Better started in 2009 with seven south suburban African American churches to provide relief for community members caring for older adults.

Rochesterians of color become caregivers at younger ages

The racial income gap in Monroe County is one of the worst in the nation, and that income gap has a direct impact on the health of many families of color in the Greater Rochester area.

According to the Democrat and Chronicle, adults of color are often more likely to experience heart disease, stroke, and dementia at a younger age than the societal average. Over 350,000 cardiac arrests occur outside of U.S. hospitals every year.

This reality often pushes many young adults and even teenagers into the role of caregiver for their older loved ones. Up to 52% of people turning 65 will need some type of long-term care services in their lifetime.

Organizations such as Common Ground Health, Eldersource, and Lifespan are currently working to bring more support to family caregivers in Rochester. And many of them are turning to the same resource that AgeOptions has recently turned to: local church communities.

Collaboration between health agencies and faith communities

Rochester’s Interdenominational Health Ministry Coalition comprises of over two dozen local faith communities. These communities are working together to promote health and wellness in the Rochester community, especially among Hispanic, Latinx, and black communities.

“Health is a spiritual matter,” said Rev. Phyllis Jackson, the founder of the ministry coalition and a community wellness project manager with Common Ground Health. “It is part of our faith to take care of our bodies. If we can unite people in faith with the understanding that they are responsible for mind, body, and spirit, I believe we can change outcomes.”

Chelsea Hawkins, a caregiver program specialist with AgeOptions, said any organization looking to replicate the work their nonprofit has done ought to know that there will be bumps along the road. The first job is going in and promoting caregiver awareness, she said, and letting Hispanic/Latinx communities and black communities know there are resources out there.

“Make sure you know the community you serve because sometimes people have biases, stereotypes, or judgments,” said Hawkins. “Make sure you have open lines of communication and are willing to work with the churches.”

“Be patient,” Hawkins added. “Success isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s going to take a lot and you have to be in it for the long haul.”

Be wary of scammers and protect loved ones from medical fraud

With local health agencies branching out to provide support and relief for caregivers, it’s important to be wary of scammers. Many seniors are targeted by scammers who want to steal their Medicare numbers to do things like commit identity theft and rack up fake health care charges. The median loss for health care fraud offenses in 2017 alone was almost $1.2 million.

Here are a few ways you can protect yourself and your loved ones from medical fraud:

  • Password-protect your phone. It might seem easier to leave your phone unprotected because it lets you search for information faster. After all, up to 62.5% of mobile searches are zero-click searches. But leaving your phone unprotected leaves your information vulnerable to thieves and hackers. Avoid using public WiFi, too, to keep your personal information protected.
  • Never give sensitive information over the phone. A legitimate organization will never ask you for your sensitive information over the phone the first time they speak to you. This is because, if the organization is real, their reputation is on the line if your information is stolen through their system. Even in invoice factoring, the factor checks the credit-worthiness of a billed customer before advancing 70% to 90% of the invoice amount. Do your research online to ensure the organization is legitimate.
  • Ask health organizations about their security practices. It might feel awkward or intimidating to ask about security practices at your hospital, doctor’s office, or insurance company. But it’s important that you advocate for your privacy to encourage health care providers to take security seriously. For instance, field service management software has evolved significantly in the last 10 years, but the market is still fragmented. Robert Lord, the president and co-founder of Protenus, says not to be afraid to ask the hard questions at the places you seek care from. “You’re often going to the hospital on the worst day of your life, and there’s an asymmetric balance of knowledge,” Lord says. “But we can empower ourselves to be privacy officers to protect our information.”

It’s important for family caregivers and their loved ones to get the help and support they need. But it’s also important to be wary of medical fraud and scammers trying to steal your information. By following the tips above, you can seek the help you need while also keeping your information safe.