How faith leaders are responding to Jackson’s water crisis

How faith leaders are responding to Jackson’s water crisis

(RNS) — C.J. Rhodes, pastor of Mt. Helm Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi, was grabbing lunch from one of his regular spots when the restaurant manager made an announcement to all the patrons.

“Guys, we have to shut down. We have no water pressure.”

On Aug. 29, flooding from the nearby Pearl River caused complications at the O.B. Curtis Water Plant, resulting in a loss of pressure and running water for the entire city.

At more than 160,000 people, Jackson is Mississippi’s largest city and the state capital. Schools, which had only just commenced classes, had to be shut down, and the city lacked water for even emergency services such as firefighting.

The crisis quickly made national news, and people from around the country turned their attention to Jackson seeking explanations and ways to help.

Within the city, residents quickly organized to help their neighbors and communities. At the center of these efforts stood faith leaders.

“Churches throughout the city of Jackson across denomination, class and race have engaged in water distributions at their churches or by giving water away in other ways,” said Rhodes.

His church became a water distribution site. As provisions flooded into the city from around the country, churches like his became hubs for supplying residents. Sometimes churches filled in where municipal distribution efforts were limited. They could stay open after hours to serve people who couldn’t make it to the city’s distribution sites before closing.

Jennifer Biard, lead pastor of Jackson Revival Center Church, lost water several days before the city-wide announcement. She came home and found the faucets simply didn’t work.

While dealing with her own water troubles, she led her church in providing for others in the southern part of the city where they have a campus. Throughout the crisis many water distribution sites were set up at various locations, but Biard and her volunteers went even further. They loaded up cases of water and hand-delivered them to individuals and businesses.

“One thing people don’t understand is that when you have people who are disabled, people who are without transportation, they may not be able to go out to the distribution sites,” she explained.

Individual churches were not the only bodies that got involved.

Reginald M. Buckley is the pastor of Cade Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. He is also the president of the General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi (GMBSC), an association of churches providing mutual aid to member congregations.

“There’s only so much any local church can do … (the convention) acts as a connector,” Buckley said.

His goal was to mobilize people and supplies from across the state and nation to help people in Jackson. The state convention has its own 18-wheel truck as well as an extensive network of churches and personnel they contacted to help.

“Though this is a trying time, one of the things that I am most grateful for is the unity that people are able to observe, how they are seeing pastors and churches come together regardless of race, regardless of denomination, regardless of anything that would divide. They are seeing the body of Christ come together like never before,” Buckley said.

Despite the efforts of churches and faith communities to provide relief, the water problems in Jackson are much deeper than a breakdown at the water plant.

The city had already been under a boil water notice for a month before the entire water system failed. Even after the city’s water pressure was restored nearly a week later, the boil water notice has remained in effect.

Although the water plant has come back online, the infrastructure issues remain.

“Now that the plant is up and running, water is flowing again, now we have to live with pipes bursting … We still have lead leaching from the pipes into the water. We still have the EPA saying the city has failed to do a number of things and if they don’t remedy those things, there may be federal seizure of the water system,” Rhodes said.

Given the continued failure to bring Jackson’s water infrastructure system up to date, Buckley said he is preparing for the next crisis.

“What we’re absolutely convinced of is that we’re going to be faced with this again, and not in the distant future but in the near future,” he said.

Buckley is working to build a stockpile of supplies to have on hand the next time the city loses water. “We are inundated with water right now. We are partnering with the Church of Christ Holiness to create a reserve and supplies center to house water, buckets and all kinds of supplies,” he said.

The constant lack of clean water and water pressure has worn on Jackson’s residents, 80% of whom are Black.

“We should have water,” Biard, who is white, said. “We should have water whether it’s cold or hot or snowing or raining.”

Jackson exists alongside wealthier suburbs including Madison, a community north of the city that is also the wealthiest in the state.

After years of experiencing a crumbling infrastructure alongside the comparative wealth of nearby towns, a freshman college student who is Black asked Buckley, “What’s wrong with me?”

“We assured her there was nothing wrong with her. There is something wrong with the world,” said Buckley, who tried to help his young parishioner understand that the fault did not rest with who she was but with external factors and decisions made by others.

Anticipating the need not only for material supplies but spiritual relief, award-winning gospel artist John P. Kee volunteered to perform a benefit concert in Jackson.

A friend of Kee’s in Jackson connected him to Biard, and he immediately knew she was someone who could help him set up the concert but also become an ongoing partner.

“I wanted to come in and partner with such a ministry where we could actually connect, and when I’m gone I’ll stay in touch, and I’ll be family,” Kee said.

Fixing Jackson’s pipes, water plant and other infrastructure needs requires resources that exceed what local churches can provide. Yet the lightning-quick response of faith leaders and their communities when the hour of need emerged provides evidence that help will be there in a crisis.

The show of unity by churches in Jackson may even be a sign of greater changes to come.

According to Biard, “I believe that this may be not just the initiation of a fresh start for Jackson, I believe it’s going to be a comprehensive fresh start … I believe that the Lord is getting ready to do something for Mississippi as a whole.”

To support local efforts to address the water crisis in Jackson, donate below.

Jemar Tisby. Photo courtesy Acorn Studio

Jemar Tisby. Photo courtesy Acorn Studio

General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi

Corporation of Global Community, a ministry of Jackson Revival Center Church.

(Jemar Tisby, PhD, is a historian, author and speaker. He wrote “The Color of Compromise” and “How to Fight Racism,” and he frequently writes about race, religion and politics in his newsletter, “Footnotes.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

Devotional: Creation awaits you

Devotional: Creation awaits you

Scripture: Romans 8:18-30 NLT

18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children,[a] including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope[b] for it. 25 But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)

26 And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27 And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers[c] in harmony with God’s own will. 28 And we know that God causes everything to work together[d] for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. 29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn[e] among many brothers and sisters. 30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.

As a true child of God, there is a power and authority that we are expected to walk in and manifest. At times, the problems we see in the world create hopelessness and despair as many ask themselves, “where is God?” These are signs that there is a need for solutions from the Church of Jesus Christ.

What if our faith in God could push us to fulfill our destiny? How many times have you wallowed in sadness and discouragement wondering what will happen with your life? We may be the answer to the world’s problems.

In Romans 8:18-30, we are reminded of the beginning in the book of Genesis where the Lord gave man authority as a caretaker of the garden of Eden. That level of responsibility meant that humanity had the power to creatively come up with solutions that would impact creation.

 

Every day, there seems to be a new problem in our society. There is always something pending that should be handled or taken care of. This scripture is a reminder that the God we serve has great confidence in us to come up with solutions that will create positive changes.

Creation is yearning for us as children of the most High God to awaken to our divine collaboration with the Lord caretaking and providing answers to every day questions and problems. If humanity can creatively come up with a strategy and a means to travel to the moon, there is a grace that is in us to come up with answers that will transform the world we are living in a day at a time.

All it takes is a perspective of faith, belief in oneself, trusting the power of God in you, and looking around to see the problems that need to be solved. Instead of waiting and wondering what your life is about, be proactive in using what God has given you to make the world you live in a better place.

Prayer

Dear Father,

Today I ask for a change in mindset. Teach me how to think like a winner and a solutionist. Instead of complaining about the problems in my life, help me to look for opportunities to make a change. Reveal to me the gifts and graces you have bestowed upon me and help me to create answers. Let me be confident in your ability to assign me as a caretaker of the world I live in. Make it a personal responsibility to make a positive change. I believe I can do it. Show me how to do it, so that I may please you as a compliment of your faith in me.

 

In Jesus Name,

Amen

Hospitals, Insurers Invest Big Dollars to Tackle Patients’ Social Needs

Hospitals, Insurers Invest Big Dollars to Tackle Patients’ Social Needs

PHILADELPHIA — When doctors at a primary care clinic here noticed many of its poorest patients were failing to show up for appointments, they hoped giving out free rides would help.

But the one-time complimentary ride didn’t reduce these patients’ 36% no-show rate at the University of Pennsylvania Health System clinics.

“I was super surprised it did not have any effect,” said Dr. Krisda Chaiyachati, the Penn researcher who led the 2018 study of 786 Medicaid patients.

Many of the patients did not take advantage of the ride because they were either saving it for a more important medical appointment or preferred their regular travel method, such as catching a ride from a friend, a subsequent study found.

It was not the first time that efforts by a health care provider to address patients’ social needs — such as food, housing and transportation — failed to work.

In the past decade, dozens of studies funded by state and federal governments, private hospitals, insurers and philanthropic organizations have looked into whether addressing patients’ social needs improves health and lowers medical costs.

But so far it’s unclear which of these strategies, focused on so-called social determinants of health, are most effective or feasible, according to several recent academic reports by experts at Columbia, Duke and the University of California-San Francisco that evaluated existing research.

And even when such interventions show promising results, they usually serve only a small number of patients. Another challenge is that several studies did not go on long enough to detect an impact, or they did not evaluate health outcomes or health costs.

“We are probably at a peak of inflated expectations, and it is incumbent on us to find the innovations that really work,” said Dr. Laura Gottlieb, director of the UCSF Social Interventions Research and Evaluation Network. “Yes, there’s a lot of hype, and not all of these interventions will have staying power.”

With health care providers and insurers eager to find ways to lower costs, the limited success of social-need interventions has done little to slow the surge of pilot programs — fueled by billions of private and government dollars.

Paying for Health, Not Just Health Care

Across the country, both public and private health insurance programs are launching large initiatives aimed at improving health by helping patients with unmet social needs. One of the biggest efforts kicks off next year in North Carolina, which is spending $650 million over five years to test the effect of giving Medicaid enrollees assistance with housing, food and transportation.

California is redesigning its Medicaid program, which covers nearly 14 million residents, to dramatically increase social services to enrollees.

These moves mark a major turning point for Medicaid, which, since its inception in 1965, largely has prohibited government spending on most nonmedical services. To get around this, states have in recent years sought waivers from the federal government and pushed private Medicaid health plans to address enrollees’ social needs.

The move to address social needs is gaining steam nationally because, after nearly a dozen years focused on expanding insurance under the Affordable Care Act, many experts and policymakers agree that simply increasing access to health care is not nearly enough to improve patients’ health.

That’s because people don’t just need access to doctors, hospitals and drugs to be healthy, they also need healthy homes, healthy food, adequate transportation and education, a steady income, safe neighborhoods and a home life free from domestic violence — things hospitals and doctors can’t provide, but that in the long run are as meaningful as an antibiotic or an annual physical.

Researchers have known for decades that social problems such as unstable housing and lack of access to healthy foods can significantly affect a patient’s health, but efforts by the health industry to take on these challenges didn’t really take off until 2010 with the passage of the ACA. The law spurred changes in how insurers pay health providers — moving them away from receiving a set fee for each service to payments based on value and patient outcomes.

As a result, hospitals now have a financial incentive to help patients with nonclinical problems — such as housing and food insecurity — that can affect health.

Temple University Health System in Philadelphia launched a two-year program last year to help 25 homeless Medicaid patients who frequently use its emergency room and other ERs in the city by providing them free housing, and caseworkers to help them access other health and social services. It helps them furnish their apartments, connects them to healthy delivered meals and assists with applications for income assistance such as Social Security.

To qualify, participants had to have used the ER at least four times in the previous year and had at least $10,000 in medical claims that year.

Temple has seen promising results when comparing patients’ experiences before the study to the first five months they were all housed. In that time, the participants’ average number of monthly ER visits fell 75% and inpatient hospital admissions dropped 79%.

At the same time, their use of outpatient services jumped by 50% — an indication that patients are seeking more appropriate and lower-cost settings for care.

Living Life as ‘Normal People Do’

One participant is Rita Stewart, 53, who now lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Philadelphia’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, home to many college students and young families.

“Everyone knows everyone,” Stewart said excitedly from her second-floor walk-up. It’s “a very calm area, clean environment. And I really like it.”

Before joining the Temple program in July and getting housing assistance, Stewart was living in a substance abuse recovery home. She had spent a few years bouncing among friends’ homes and other recovery centers. Once she slept in the city bus terminal.

In 2019, Stewart had visited the Temple ER four times for various health concerns, including anxiety, a heart condition and flu.

Stewart meets with her caseworkers at least once a week for help scheduling doctor appointments, arranging group counseling sessions and managing household needs.

“It’s a blessing,” she said from her apartment with its small kitchen and comfy couch.

“I have peace of mind that I am able to walk into my own place, leave when I want to, sleep when I want to,” Stewart said. “I love my privacy. I just look around and just wow. I am grateful.”

Stewart has sometimes worked as a nursing assistant and has gotten her health care through Medicaid for years. She still deals with depression, she said, but having her own home has improved her mood. And the program has helped keep her out of the hospital.

“This is a chance for me to take care of myself better,” she said.

Her housing assistance help is set to end next year when the Temple program ends, but administrators said they hope to find all the participants permanent housing and jobs.

“Hopefully that will work out and I can just live my life like normal people do and take care of my priorities and take care of my bills and things that a normal person would do,” Stewart said.

“Housing is the second-most impactful social determinant of health after food security,” said Steven Carson, a senior vice president at Temple University Health System. “Our goal is to help them bring meaningful and lasting health improvement to their lives.”

Success Doesn’t Come Cheap

Temple is helping pay for the program; other funding comes from two Medicaid health plans, a state grant and a Pittsburgh-based foundation. A nonprofit human services organization helps operate the program.

Program organizers hope the positive results will attract additional financing so they can expand to help many more homeless patients.

The effort is expensive. The “Housing Smart” program cost $700,000 to help 25 people for one year, or $28,000 per person. To put this in perspective, a single ER visit can cost a couple of thousands of dollars. And “frequent flyer” patients can tally up many times that in ER visits and follow-up care.

If Temple wants to help dozens more patients with housing, it will need tens of millions of dollars more per year.

Still, Temple officials said they expect the effort will save money over the long run by reducing expensive hospital visits — but they don’t yet have the data to prove that.

The Temple program was partly inspired by a similar housing effort started at two Duke University clinics in Durham, North Carolina. That program, launched in 2016, has served 45 patients with unstable housing and has reduced their ER use. But it’s been unable to grow because housing funding remains limited. And without data showing the intervention saves on health care costs, the organizers have been unable to attract more financing.

Often there is a need to demonstrate an overall reduction in health care spending to attract Medicaid funding.

“We know homelessness is bad for your health, but we are in the early stages of knowing how to address it,” said Dr. Seth Berkowitz, a researcher at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Results Remain to Be Seen

“We need to pay for health not just health care,” said Elena Marks, CEO of the Houston-based Episcopal Health Foundation, which provides grants to community clinics and organizations to help address the social needs of vulnerable populations.

The nationwide push to spend more on social services is driven first by the recognition that social and economic forces have a greater impact on health than do clinical services like doctor visits, Marks said. A second factor is that the U.S. spends far less on social services per capita compared with other large, industrialized nations.

“This is a new and emerging field,” Marks said when reviewing the evaluations of the many social determinants of health studies. “The evidence is weak for some, mixed for some, and strong for a few areas.”

But despite incomplete evidence, Marks said, the status quo isn’t working either: Americans generally have poorer health than their counterparts in other industrialized countries with more robust social services.

“At some point we keep paying you more and more, Mr. Hospital, and people keep getting less and less. So, let’s go look for some other solutions” Marks said.

The covid-19 pandemic has shined further light on the inequities in access to health services and sparked interest in Medicaid programs to address social issues. Over half of states are implementing or expanding Medicaid programs that address social needs, according to a KFF study in October 2020. (The KHN newsroom is an editorially independent program of KFF.)

The Medicaid interventions are not intense in many states: Often they involve simply screening patients for social needs problems or referring them to another agency for help. Only two states — Arizona and Oregon — require their Medicaid health plans to directly invest money into pilot programs to address the social problems that screening reveals, according to a survey by consulting firm Manatt.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which is funding a growing number of efforts to help Medicaid patients with social needs, said it “remains committed” to helping states meet enrollees’ social challenges including education, employment and housing.

On Jan. 7, CMS officials under the Trump administration sent guidance to states to accelerate these interventions. In May, under President Joe Biden, a CMS spokesperson told KHN: “Evidence indicates that some social interventions targeted at Medicaid and CHIP beneficiaries can result in improved health outcomes and significant savings to the health care sector.”

The agency cited a 2017 survey of 17 state Medicaid directors in which most reported they recognized the importance of social determinants of health. The directors also noted barriers to address them, such as cost and sustainability.

In Philadelphia, Temple officials now face the challenge of finding new financing to keep their housing program going.

“We are trying to find the magic sauce to keep this program running,” said Patrick Vulgamore, project manager for Temple’s Center for Population Health.

Sojourner Ahebee, health equity fellow at WHYY’s health and science show, “The Pulse,” contributed to this report.

This story is part of a partnership that includes WHYY, NPR and KHN.

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’Tis the Season to Be Laid Off

’Tis the Season to Be Laid Off

The holiday season is a special time of peace, joy, goodwill toward others, and … job cuts.

Just scan the headlines of companies announcing layoffs.

It wasn’t always this way. But even before the pandemic, companies had become less gun shy about blasting employees around Christmastime. Shedding jobs in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year helps companies to balance their books and start fresh in January. For the jobless, it can make for a wrenching cheerless holiday. Meanwhile, those on the employment bubble are left thanking their lucky stars, that is, until the next round of cuts.

Heartless or just business?

Actually it’s both. The motive is certainly not about “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” This is why, ironically, losing your job during the holidays may be the best gift for you.

How do I know? It happened it me.

One November, a few years back, my supervisor called me into his office as if nothing was wrong, told me that my services were no longer needed and handed me a manila folder. This was just six months after I had joined the well-known company, relocated my family (with two teens in high school), and bought a home. As devout and God-fearing as I would like to think I am, I didn’t feel very spiritual at that moment. But the scripture is true: “What man means for evil, God can turn to good” (Gen. 5:20). I eventually chose to join God’s plan to use that dark moment to refocus me on faith, family, and a brighter future.

I got fired up.

How did it happen? My book, Fired Up, explains the four steps:

1. Talk About It. I immediately told friends and family what happened, instead of wallowing in shame.

2. Pray About It. Through daily prayer I reflected on my past accomplishments, which inspired and helped me plan my next career move.

3.  Feel It. I embraced my emotions, but managed them. When anger raged and I felt like hurting the guy and cursing the company’s owner for the cowardly classless way they fired me, I let it flow. I also took a kickboxing class as an outlet to kick and punch out anger.

4. Forgive. These first three steps helped me to learn from the situation and reject the bitter feeling of wanting harm to come upon my ex-supervisor and the company’s owner. They weren’t thinking about me, and so I was cheating my family and myself by ruminating about them. I refocused on “Me Inc.”

Job cuts come with the territory. Especially if you’re an at-will employee (and not under contract), you can be slashed at any moment. For those who have gotten the ax, wanting to return the favor to your former boss is a waste of time and energy.  The appropriate F-word is “forgive,” so that you can move up to what God has prepared for you.

As I mentioned, employers want to start fresh after the New Year, so December and January are actually good times to find your next job, if that’s what you want. Maybe God wants you to start that business he placed into your heart! Either way, stay focused, keep your head up and put your feet to the pavement. For those who are dealing with a jobless loved one or spouse, particularly a male, here’s some advice to help them press on:

1. If you’re married, encourage your spouse. The Bible teaches that women have the power “to build up” or “pull down” their homes (Prov. 14:1). Wise women understand “death and life is in the power of the tongue.” (Prov. 18:21). The guy is already feeling inadequate as a breadwinner. Instead of tossing more dirt on his fragile ego, show that you’re in the trenches with him. Likewise, men must encourage their wives through a job loss and love her sacrificially (Eph. 5:25-27).

2. If you have children, include them in the recovery process. Together, tell the kids what’s going on. Too often we shield children from bad news because we don’t want them to be disappointed. Forget that. It’s a disservice to them. Children need to learn how to handle hard times because they will become adults who will have to handle hard times. So, there won’t be any expensive Christmas gifts under the tree this year? Tell them why and that the holiday is about Jesus the giver not Santa the credit card debt creator. They’ll survive, and you will too.

3. Cut expenses and eliminate debt. Most of the economic pundits claim that America must spend its way out of the recession for jobs to return. Guess what? Those old jobs that required obsolete skills aren’t coming back. The banks — especially the ones that were bailed out by our tax dollars — are cutting expenses, investing and reaping huge profits. Do the same.

4. Pray together. Job losses often trigger divorces. God allows us to face challenges so that we can shed the excesses and distractions of daily life in order to refocus on Him — the source of our increase. Losing income is a wakeup call to recognizing who your Provider truly is.

It hasn’t been easy, but these God-directed steps worked for my family and me. None of us have been hungry or without shelter. I moved on to better employment. I have my own radio show. I’m pursuing a doctorate. My book and consulting business are doing well. (These things likely would not have happened had I remained in that old position.) Our two teens are in college. My wife and I remain on the journey.

Losing your job is never easy, but it’s not a death sentence. What you do afterward is an opportunity to grow in your relationship with God and think more creatively about the days ahead.

The Christmas season is about faith, family, and future. Don’t let a job loss — a painful but temporary thing — take your focus off of what really matters.

Helping Victims of Hurricane Sandy

Helping Victims of Hurricane Sandy

NEW YORK UNDERWATER: A photo taken on Oct. 29, 2012, shows vehicles on a flooded street in the Queens Borough of New York City. Hurricane Sandy, the tenth hurricane this year, was one of the strongest storms ever to slam the U.S. East Coast. (Photo: Wang Chengyun/ZUMA Press/Newscom)

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and the unprecedented havoc that she wrought, there is a tremendous need for support services for those that sustained damage to their homes and businesses, as well as the first responders and volunteers on the ground who will be helping them. Many people are still without electricity, facing flooding, a shortage of food, and the potential loss of property and income. While emergency personnel from both local and state governments are working to assist many in the affected regions, there is always a need for more support. You can help by donating money to relief organizations. Below is a list of just a few. Feel free to add others to the comments section.

In addition, one of the most important things we can do is to pray for Sandy’s victims, as well as the emergency responders and volunteers who will be helping them in the days ahead. The Christian Post offers this list of specific needs that you can use to focus your prayers.

Charities Offering Services for Hurricane Sandy Victims

Red Cross

Red Cross operates emergency shelters throughout the affected areas, provides medical and food services, and has emergency vehicles ready to help with transportation needs.

Americares

Americares is a medical and supply organization that helps distributes emergency supplies to afflicted areas.

Salvation Army

Salvation Army provides emergency supplies, food, medicine, care, and transportation services in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.

National Firefighters Endowment Fund

An emergency fund for victims of Hurricane Sandy

Save The Children

Save the Children provides food, medical, and emergency services for poor children and families. They have a specific program for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Convoy of Hope

Convoy of Hope is a faith-based humanitarian organization that’s loosely affiliated with the Assemblies of God. It has a long history of responding to natural disasters in the U.S. and abroad.

World Vision

World Vision is a Christian relief and development organization dedicated to serving the world’s poor. It also has team in place to respond quickly to natural disasters in the U.S. and around the globe.