From the Memphis Model to the North Carolina Way: Building Faith Community and Health System Partnerships

Teresa Cutts, Ph. D., Faculty, Wake Forest University
Rev. Dr. Gary Gunderson, VP, FaithHealth Professor, Wake Forest University

Presentation slides: Memphis Model NC Way Presentation [pdf]
Handout: The North Carolina Way: Emerging Healthcare System and Faith Community Partnerships [pdf]

The Memphis Model, a partnership between more than 600 mostly African American congregations and Methodist LeBonheur Health System in Memphis, TN, has been cited as best practice in providing care for underserved and minority persons by various sources and has data to support its impact. In 2012, Gary Gunderson was recruited to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina to create a version of the Memphis Model in NC.  Since that time, he and his team have adapted the Memphis Model to the “North Carolina Way,” a partnership network distributed across 25 NC counties that engages 359 congregations and eight health systems. The team believe that “proactive mercy” is better than “reactive charity” as it pertains to how health systems manage charity care through partnering with socially complex systems of faith and other community networks.

This workshop presents an overview of the Memphis Model and North Carolina Way efforts, as well as assumptions that have been tested about what components of these models might be essential to successfully adapt the work in Memphis to other sites. Both qualitative and quantitative findings will be shared from Memphis and the NC Way from select health systems which are building faith community partnerships, describing their work and lessons learned. Particularly, data will be shared which demonstrates how these partnerships have impacted healthcare utilization, charity care and readmissions in certain health systems.

Rev. Dr. Gary Gunderson is Vice President for the Division of Faith and Health Ministries at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center which includes spiritual care, Clinical Pastoral Education, and counseling centers in 32 locations across North Carolina. The division is developing clinically relevant partnerships with hundreds of faith groups through FaithHealthNC. Gunderson is known for more than two decades of creative work in the field of faith and public health; initially at the Carter Center and Emory School of Public Health and then in Memphis, Tennessee where the ideas found ground through more than 530 congregational partners showing hard evidence of significant improved outcomes including mortality, cost, and dramatically lower hospitalization. The work has been cited by the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the American Hospital Association, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, the World Health Organization, the White House, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and numerous industry venues.

This model is now being adapted to the very different operational demands of an 850-bed academic medical center with a large referral areas demanding complex partnerships. FaithHealthNC is working closely with the North Carolina Hospital Association and regional foundations to spread the model across the state. Gunderson is also Secretary of Stakeholder Health, a learning group of more than 40 healthcare systems convened in working collaboration with the White House and the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Gunderson is Professor of Public Health Science at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and Professor of the Health of the Public in the School of Divinity. He is visiting faculty at the University of Cape Town Division of Family Medicine and Public Health where he was also one of the founders of the International Religious Health Assets Program.

Gary is an ordained American Baptist Minister with degrees from Candler School of Theology at Emory University and Doctor of Ministry at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. He also holds an honorary doctorate from the Chicago Theological Seminary.

Teresa Cutts Ph.D. completed her post-doctoral fellowship in health psychology from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine. She began her career as a staff psychologist at Baptist Memorial Hospital and held an appointment at University of Tennessee in psychiatry. She was also a private practitioner at Memphis Center for Women and Families, with a focus on health psychology and conducted critical incident stress debriefings in the community. She has conducted clinical team research in the area of quality of life and catastrophic gastrointestinal disorders, and currently serves as a consultant to the NIH Gastroparesis multi-site consortium.

Dr. Cutts served as the Coordinating Director of the World Council of Churches International Reference Group on Mental Health and Faith Communities and is a member of the African Religion Health Assets Programme, as well as a Leading Causes of Life Fellow. She served as the co-PI on a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant, the Stakeholder Health Collaborative, with more than 50 national health systems, designed to proactively deal with healthcare reform mandates.

In 2013, Teresa moved to her current Assistant Research Professor faculty position at the Wake Forest School of Medicine’s Public Health Sciences Division to work with FaithHealth Innovations at Wake Forest University Hospital. Recently in 2014, with colleagues from MLH in Memphis, she published “Methods for Managing and Analyzing Electronic Medical Records: A Formative Examination of a Hospital-Congregation Based Intervention” in Population Health Management.

As the faith-health academic and community liaison in her academic and community roles, Dr. Cutts hopes to help all, but particularly the underserved, become the “beloved community” envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Describe briefly the Memphis Model or Congregational Health Network.
  2. Provide an overview of the North Carolina Way network and name one difference between the NC Way and Memphis Model.
  3. Share at least one lesson learned from adapting the Memphis Model to the NC Way.


  1. Stine NW, Chokshi DA, Gourevitch MN. Improving Population Health in US Cities. JAMA.2013; 309(5):449-450. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.154302.
  2. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Service Delivery Innovation Profile: Church-Health System Partnership Facilitates Transitions from Hospital to Home for Urban, Low-Income African Americans, Reducing Mortality, Utilization, and Costs. Published March 14, 2012.  Accessed June 23, 2016.
  3. Barnes P, Cutts T, Dickinson S et al. Methods for Managing and Analyzing Electronic Medical Records: A Formative Examination of a Hospital-Congregation-Based Intervention. Popul Health Manag. 2014;17(5):279-286. doi:10.1089/pop.2013.0078
  4. Cutts T. The Memphis Congregational Health Network Model: Grounding ARHAP Theory. In: Cochrane J, Schmid B, Cutts T, ed. When Religion And Health Align. Pietermaritzburg: Cluster Publications; 2011:193-209.
  5. Gunderson G, Cutts T, Cochrane JR. The Health of Complex Human Populations. Institute of Medicine. Published October 15, 2015. Accessed June 23, 2016.