Monday, June 21, 2010

Creating Community: The Challenge

What is a Community?

In the context of healthcare and illness, community can mean different things to different people. For the purposes of this discussion, we will describe community as one of the following:

1. A disease-specific or healthcare specialty group: Examples of these might be "the cancer community" or the "hospice community"

2. Location: This could mean a neighborhood or retirement facility, "The Shady Grove Community," or a particular health system such as "The John's Hopkins Community"

3. Organizations: This includes organizations dedicated to creating "intentional communities"for the purpose of supporting caregivers and patients who may not have a naturally occurring support network

In some cases, a community comes together to help one individual. Sometimes, one individual will blaze a trail for the benefit of an entire community. In both cases, there is often a strong personal motivation to advocate and motivate on the community level.

Before we explore the possible ways to be a community advocate, it is important to first understand the challenges that present themselves to both individuals and the community and a whole. It is by understanding these challenges that we can begin to move past them.

The Challenge for the Community:

When a family is dealing with serious illness or loss, the community feels for them. The community wants to help. Unfortunately, they don't always know how. Often people outside of the immediate situation don't feel comfortable in knowing what to say and do. They are fearful of saying something wrong and don't know what the family might need/want. It is out of this concern for putting foot in mouth or overstepping boundaries that sometimes the community takes a step back and does very little.

When communities do get involved, it is often in very traditional ways. Things like sending notes and bringing by food are extremely helpful. At the the same time, there may be more the community can do to offer support. This means getting closer to the situation and discovering the particular needs of the personalities involved.

To be as supportive to individual families, communities may need to think outside the box. First we must begin to understand each other and them we can partner with each other for the greatest level of community engagement possible.

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