Forums Will Help Faith Community Prepare For A Flu Pandemic
Flu Pandemic and Churches
In Hamilton County, health districts are working with faith leaders to plan how houses of worship and health districts can work together to save lives and prevent the spread of disease during a flu pandemic.
In April, Hamilton County health districts (Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Norwood, Sharonville and Springdale) and the Hamilton County Pandemic Influenza Faith Advisory Committee will host a forum for Hamilton County churches and faith leaders to address issues that might arise during an influenza pandemic. Some of those issues include how to continue religious services if public gatherings have been cancelled or restricted, how to care for elderly or infirm members of a congregation, and how to disseminate important health information to congregants.
"It makes sense that people should turn to their faith and leaders in their church during times of crisis," said Hamilton County Health Commissioner Tim Ingram. "Local churches will have a role to play if and when pandemic influenza comes to our area. We will rely on them to help disseminate important public health messages and to keep a close eye on the vulnerable people in their congregation," Ingram added.
The objectives of the forum are to discuss communication, cancellation and care issues that will arise during a pandemic and how public health districts and the faith community can work together to lessen the impact of a pandemic on the community.
Heath districts want to ensure that proper channels are available for two-way communication with area churches. An additional priority is ensuring that churches can serve as a conduit for relaying information to their members. Communication is key even now, before a pandemic starts, because churches and residents should be taking specific steps to prepare for an emergency. Health districts can work with area churches to help educate the community about pandemic preparedness and other emergencies, as well as ways they can keep their members healthy now.
Cancellations and Care
To help stop the spread of a pandemic illness, health districts may cancel public gatherings for a period time, which may include religious services. While traditional religious services may be suspended for a time, churches and other houses of worship may have other roles to play during a pandemic, such as providing care for elderly or infirm congregation members, relaying important public health information, and providing counseling services and support to congregation members.
Susan Brokaw, a physician and director of Parish Health Ministry at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Montgomery, knows first hand the significant role churches can play during emergency situations, even those that are relatively small-scale when compared to an influenza pandemic.
"During the recent ice storms in our area, our rector and his wife contacted home-bound parishioners to make sure they were safe, warm and had the supplies they needed," Brokaw explained. "As a faith community, we have a moral and spiritual responsibility to ensure that our members have access to the care and information they need to sustain themselves during emergencies as short-lived as an ice storm, as well as those like pandemic influenza that may continue for weeks at a time."
Brokaw has also seen her church open its doors to the community during large scale emergencies. When tornadoes touched down in Greater Cincinnati in April 1999, St. Barnabas opened its doors to the community and served as a resource center for volunteer teams working in the area, donated supply depot and gathering place for the community and its government leaders.
Hamilton County religious leaders, parish nurses, staff and administrators are invited to attend an upcoming forum at one of the following four locations. The forums are free and it is only necessary to attend one session. Registration deadline is April 12.