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National Program Office of Faith in Action To Be Located at Medical Center

Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center will become the home of the national office of a seven-year, $100 million health care support program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), and Burton V. Reifler, M.D., chair of psychiatry and behavioral medicine, has been chosen to head the new program.

Reifler, whose specialty is geriatric psychiatry, will step down as chair to assume full-time responsibilities for running the program - the second "phase" of an RWJF program known as Faith in Action.

Reifler and a staff of about 15 will identify and approve local interfaith organizations around the country to receive foundation grants. The grants of $35,000 each will be used to start volunteer-based support systems for the frail elderly, disabled and chronically ill. Local programs may focus on particular population groups or on specific illnesses.

Reifler said that approximately 2,000 program sites will be funded over the seven years of the program, about 75 each quarter. The grants will pay for a coordinator to recruit and train volunteers to assist home- or institution-bound patients with basic needs such as transportation, shopping, errands and companionship.

Faith in Action provides financial and technical assistance for each program, he said. Of more than 1,000 local programs funded during the first phase of Faith in Action - from the mid- 1980s through 1993 - more than 800 are still operating, Reifler said, citing Winston-Salem's Shepherd Center as an example.

Local coalitions could include religious congregations of many faiths, as well as social service agencies and hospitals.

"The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has created a wonderful model for local interfaith partnerships to organize volunteers to help the frail elderly and chronically ill," Reifler said. "More than 10 million Americans are isolated and in need of this kind of informal health care."

He said that the program can also provide respite assistance for family caregivers. "Soon 22 million families will be in a situation where they are providing round-the-clock care for a close relative. In fact, everybody will go through this at one time or another - as a caregiver or care recipient.

"Not only is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation very socially conscious, they are very visionary in foreseeing the health care needs of our citizens. I'm extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to work with this program."

Reifler served as director of Partners in Caregiving, an RWJF national program related to adult day centers from 1987 through 2001. He was an RWJF clinical scholar at the University of Washington in Seattle from 1976 to 1978. The Faith in Action grant will be administered by Wake Forest University, and Reifler will remain on the faculty of Wake Forest University School of Medicine as a professor of psychiatry.

A formal announcement of the new program will be made at a meeting of the nation's major religious organizations March 27-28 in Washington, D.C. The Faith in Action program office will move here from its current location in New York City, effective May 1. Interfaith organizations interested in applying for grants should visit the website at http://www.fiavolunteers.org.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was established as a national philanthropy in 1972 and today is the largest U.S. foundation devoted to improving the health and health care of all Americans.

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