HealthVisions Midwest is a faith-based organization that was founded in 1998 to further the mission and values of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ (Poor Handmaids). Its initial services were offered in communities where the Poor Handmaids formerly owned and operated hospitals. HealthVisions was focused on reducing health disparities and empowering underserved communities to live healthier. The late Don Barnes served as the ministry’s first CEO and remained in that role until his retirement in 2017. As a small organization serving communities with great needs, HealthVisions has always developed partnerships and collaborations with others to expand reach while also seeking to reduce duplication of services.
The first HealthVisions location was opened in November 1998 in Allen County, IN after the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ sold St. Joseph Hospital in Fort Wayne, IN. In keeping with the Poor Handmaid model of serving the poor and underserved, HealthVisions conducted focus groups for its initial location to identify primary areas of greatest concern and uncovered the need for removal of lead poisoning in public housing and growing their own food and embracing healthier eating habits. Evaluations of these two key issues led to major initiatives focused on removing barriers to healthier outcomes. Addressing the two primary needs identified in initial focus groups laid the foundation for progress in Fort Wayne and Allen County as lead remediation began and community gardens were planted. These initial collaborations have evolved into the Allen County Health Equity Coalition, with over 80 dedicated community members serving to date. HealthVisions also helped communities get fresh foods by developing a Master Gardening program to teach residents how to garden.
HealthVisions expanded into Hammond after Poor Handmaids sold St. Mary Medical Center and St. Catherine Hospital in 1999. In Lake County, HealthVisions responded to poor birth outcomes, infant mortality, and lack of coordinated maternal and child health services by developing the Maternal and Child Health Network. Identifying a gap in prenatal services for the Latino community, HealthVisions developed Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) using Latino Community Health Workers to provide services to their community. These coordinated efforts significantly reduced infant mortality. HealthVisions distributed cribs, playpens, diapers, formula, and other supplies to mothers in need as well as teaching about safe sleeping. HealthVisions has addressed other needs in Lake County include breast and cervical cancer and gaps in health services for older adults by partnering with others to create a Breast and Cervical Cancer Program for screenings and Bridges to Wellness Network to teach seniors how to self-monitor their conditions.
HealthVisions expanded to East St. Louis, IL after Poor Handmaids sold St. Mary’s Hospital in 2004. The Poor Handmaids wanted to maintain a ministry presence in the community to continue its mission to serve the poor. HealthVisions and the Poor Handmaids worked with several social, faith-based, and health care agencies, and churches to identify the unmet community needs. The primary needs identified included follow-up with seniors after home health care services terminated, isolation, and loneliness in seniors. HealthVisions started Faith in Action to Serve and Transform (FAST) in 2005 to provide non-medical support and volunteer caregiving services to seniors. FAST volunteers provided telephone reassurance calls, friendly visits, seasonal yard work and minor home repair services. HealthVisions responded to the needs of seniors and developed case management services to link seniors to community services that promote independence. This services later expanded to become Information and Assistance, completing applications for free bus passes, discount license plates, Medicare, and Medicaid assistance, etc. Due to the inability of seniors to access services, especially medical services, and the decrease in available medical care in the community, HealthVisions started an assisted transportation service. They also provided various support to churches including healthy eating, chronic disease self-management and training and support.
In each of the three current service locations, HealthVisions continues to serve the underserved by empowering and supporting them to live healthier.
HealthVisions prides itself on identifying a need, facilitating the initial process then transitioning tasks to community partners who are empowered to shepherd them to a satisfactory outcome. This enables HVM to identify other priority items in the areas they serve, thus continually evolving to meet the most relevant and greatest need. Some of the former programs were:
- Prevention of Lead Poisoning – Fort Wayne/Allen County
- Healthy Eating through Community Gardens — St. Joseph and Allen Counties
- Medical Mobile Unit for Mishawaka, Plymouth and South Bend, IN
- Prenatal Care Coordination – Lake County, IN
- REACH (Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health/Alcance): Pre-natal Care for Hispanic Women – Lake County, IN
- MORE (Mission Outreach Reaching Everyone): Empowered congregations to provide outreach ministries—East St. Louis, IL (this program is still ongoing)
The evolution of our programs shows how we stay attuned to the signs of the time. A significant part of HVM is partnerships. We encourage organizations to work together and to refer clients to each other’s resources. We break down the silo mentality. Creating an atmosphere of working together speaks to sustainability. HealthVisions has programs in three locations: Fort Wayne and Hammond, IN and in East St. Louis, IL.
- Bridges to Wellness Program/Network – Hammond
- Community Health Worker Training -- Hammond
- Breast and Cervical Cancer/WiseWoman Programs – Hammond
- Mission Outreach Reaching Everyone (MORE) – East St. Louis
- Faith in Action to Serve and Transform (FAST) – East St. Louis
- Living a Healthy Life (Chronic Disease Self-Management) – East St. Louis
- American Diabetes Association’s HEAL and DEEP programs East St. Louis and Hammond
- Allen County Health Disparities Coalition – Fort Wayne
- Diabetes Self-Management – Fort Wayne
- Empowered Program – Fort Wayne
In 2016 HealthVisions Midwest became the premiere certifying vendor for INCHWA (Indiana Community Health Worker Association) certifying Community Health Workers across the state of Indiana.