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“Mr. Chaplain” is Making a Difference, One Life at a Time



This Horizon program has helped thousands of New Jerseyans since the start of the pandemic.

By Valerie Harr, Director, Community Health - Enterprise at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey

Pastor and Chaplain Errol T. Stoddart, DMin, lives by a simple philosophy. “You cannot give what you do not have,” he says. “I have to have empathy to give empathy. I have to have love to give love. I have to have self-respect to give respect.” This devotion to giving – to assisting those in need – drove Dr. Stoddart to become a Community Health Care Chaplain at University Hospital in the Horizon Neighbors in Health program.

University Hospital (UH) is New Jersey’s only state-funded hospital. Sitting at the center of Newark, UH serves as the region's only Level 1 trauma center and is a key provider of medical services there. Horizon Neighbors in Health is part of UH’s Community and Population Health Department, a team focused on helping patients whose health is impacted by socioeconomic factors like homelessness, food insecurity, and other conditions that have to do with where they live and work.

Horizon Neighbors in Health is a collaborative effort created by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (Horizon). The program addresses social determinants of health, the complex, integrated, and overlapping social structures and economic systems responsible for most health inequities. Working with partners such as UH, Horizon aims to make a difference in the lives of thousands of New Jerseyans over three years.

Help beyond the hospital’s walls

Dr. Stoddart is one of the individuals trying to make that difference. Born in Jamaica and coming to the United States in the late 1970s, Dr. Stoddart earned his Master’s of Divinity Degree at Andrews University and began pastoring in the mid-1980s. He worked as a chaplain in New Jersey hospitals, and while he enjoyed the opportunity to pastor others, he felt something was missing from the experience. He would assist people from the moment they arrived at the hospital up until the moment they left. But there was no follow-up. As soon as they walked out of the hospital doors, that was the end of his ability to help.

He wanted to do more. He wanted to provide pastoring and assistance to individuals in need outside of the hospital’s walls: to give to others what he himself was fortunate to have. That’s why Dr. Stoddart was excited to join Horizon Neighbors in Health. He is now one of three Community Health Care Chaplains (CHC) in the Population Health Department at UH assigned to this initiative. As a CHC, Dr. Stoddart reaches out to individuals who may be eligible for the Horizon Neighbors in Health program and follows up with those who are already participants.

“Here, when a patient leaves the hospital, you follow up with them. You have a chance to communicate with them, to pastor them, and to support them on their journey,” Dr. Stoddart said.

A daily mission to support individuals in need

For Dr. Stoddart, each day begins with a moment of meditation and time to internalize spiritually what he hopes to achieve that day. Then, he starts his daily outreach to members or potential members. Dr. Stoddart finds particular joy in talking to people and connecting with them so that they know that he is there to assist them as best he can. Sometimes that assistance is as simple as listening to people in their time of need. When a woman found out a close relative who lived out of state died unexpectedly, she had no one to open up to about her grief or the difficulties in trying to resolve her loved one’s affairs. Dr. Stoddart was there to minister her through it.

When a single mother found herself without housing, Dr. Stoddart was able to locate a shelter for her and her family. But finding a shelter was not enough. That’s why he is currently assisting her with the necessary paperwork to ensure she has a permanent residence.

Years ago, LJ* was the victim of a crime that left him badly injured and now lives in constant pain. He could not find a primary care physician (PCP) or any pain management. Dr. Stoddart helped him secure an initial doctor’s appointment and is now in the process of personally meeting with a long-term PCP to provide LJ with the treatment he needs.

COVID-19 has created numerous challenges for Horizon Neighbors in Health program members. Dr. Stoddart is trying to address that as well. He is part of a statewide group of pastors and religious leaders of all persuasions and backgrounds, known as I AM. Working with that group, Dr. Stoddart was able to bring in representatives from Horizon and the New Jersey Department of Health to share the latest updates and information about the coronavirus, including the appropriate contact information for those looking for COVID-19 vaccinations. I AM has been able to disseminate this information throughout the local communities they represent.

“Mr. Chaplain” takes a holistic approach to health

The ability to serve people who he might otherwise have not encountered before – to work outside the normal confines of the system – fills Dr. Stoddart’s soul with gratitude, he said. Many of those he works with refer to Dr. Stoddart as “Mr. Chaplain,” a nickname he joyously embraces, knowing that they can reach out to him at any time and feel they are valued. He sees Horizon’s approach through the Horizon Neighbors in Health program as new, different, and, most importantly, impactful.

“The fact that Horizon has thought of health from a holistic perspective is refreshing,” said Dr. Stoddart about the program. “The concept of healthcare being thought of as not just the hospital or the medication, but as this holistic approach to this person’s whole life, as all of these things impact health outcomes, shows it is a well-thought-out program. If we can lift someone or direct someone to a community resource that can address those issues, we will have done our job and done it well.”

*Initials have been changed to protect privacy.