College can be a time of discovery about ourselves and about the wider world around us. For Nancy Schlichting, Duke University was where she both discovered that she was gay, and that it was possible to feel welcome and comfortable in a church anyways.
“Churches were hard for me,” says Schlichting.
But as a member of the Duke Chapel Choir, she found a place that was non-denominational and inclusive.
“Every Sunday I went to this wonderful, wonderful church,” says Schlichting, who heard speakers there like Billy Graham, Elizabeth McAllister, and Thomas Skinner. “That was an important part of my life. It’s a place that was really important to me.”
Schlichting says that she’s always had faith and always had an interest in linking faith and health care.
At the IFLC’s annual awards dinner on October 5, Schlichting will receive the Dan Hart Krichbaum Visionary Civic Leader Award for leading the Henry Ford Health System in doing just that.
As Chief Executive Officer of the HFHS, she has led both a dramatic financial turnaround and the development of award-winning patient safety, customer service and diversity initiatives.
Schlichting sees all the community connection points with health care, and is particularly aware of the role that houses of worship can play. As CEO since 2003, she has provided leadership for expanding and creating initiatives that weave faith leaders and congregants into the fabric of health care. Henry Ford has been at the forefront of connecting community to health care with initiatives such as providing information kiosks in houses of worship and support for community faith nurses with goal setting and peer review through the Faith Community Nursing and Health Network, and providing resources for faith leaders to discuss end of life issues.
African-American churches are particularly valuable in their role as a health partner says Schlicting, in that they serve as community centers for members.
“Much like schools, when you have an organization that’s part of people’s lives every day.”
In Detroit, she says, many churches have survived when businesses and other institutions haven’t, and Detroiters who have left the city often continue to go to those churches. With such a strong connection, particularly in times of crisis, a pastor or a parish nurse might be the first point of contact for a member who is facing a health challenge.
In addition to faith community initiatives, HFHS community initiatives are broad, including mobile vans that go to Detroit schools, work within the Arab American community, and a health center in Highland Park’s Ruth Ellis Center for LGBTQ youth who have been thrown out of their homes.
“Everything we do is related to our values and our focus on diversity and inclusion,” says Schlichting.
Schlichting is preparing for retirement from her role as CEO of HFHS. Retirement, however, may be a misleading word for her actual plans, which include working on “a ton of boards,” and serving as an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health.
The IFLC award, says Schlicting, is a “tremendous capstone as I near my retirement. The IFLC really captures those aspects of what I’ve been trying to do for 25 years.”
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