by Barbara Scarpella Reed
Churches have promoted healing and care giving for centuries. Parish nursing in the contemporary world has grown out of the work of Dr. Granger Westburg, a Lutheran Chaplin who served for 45 years as a Chaplin and educator within medical schools and hospitals. Westburg supported the concept of uniting the medical and religious professions in promoting wellness of the body, mind and spirit. He believed that the nurse was the ideal catalyst in accomplishing this holistic approach.
The American Nurses Association has recognized parish nursing as a specialty practice since 1997. It is a unique, specialized area of nursing that promotes health within the values, beliefs and practices of a faith community. A parish nurse does not provide home health care services or perform invasive procedures.
A parish nurse is a Registered Nurse, a spiritual maturing Christian with a personal commitment to serve the congregation and the healing ministry of the church.
Thirty-five parish nurse experts from across the United States developed the curriculum through the International Parish Nurse Resource Center. Over 7000 nurses are currently using the standardized core curriculum in parish nursing.
More people in the congregations are able to access a parish nurse to assist them in integrating their faith in addressing their health. Many parish nurses work as volunteers while others work in paid positions. Each church utilizing parish nurses have developed a certain model for practice, and this model is what determines the guidelines and policies for practice as well as the salary issue.
At Immanuel Lutheran Church, Loveland, CO, Assistant Pastor Al Schroeder knows first hand the value of church-based nursing. He and MarJean Carpenter RN have been instrumental in developing the parish-nursing program.
Immanuel requires that the parish nurse be a staff person who answers to the Core Ministry Team for Human Care. The parish nurse reports to the pastors and elders as requested. They are encouraged to associate with other parish nurses active in the community for learning and planning cooperative efforts.
Carpenter explains, "We also serve as health advocates and as a referral source, acting as liaisons between the congregation, health care facilities and community resources and services. We are spiritual health partners with McKee Wellness Center, focusing on health education."
Schroeder said, "The church is very accountable to our congregation, all health data is put into the computer, we are professionals yet are carrying and compassionate."
Carpenter and Schroeder both emphasized the value of the parish-nursing program as a teacher of reciprocal giving. "As our work becomes recognized within the congregation, they are inspired to reach out and care for each other," said Carpenter.
Other goals as a parish nurse at Immanuel include, personal health counseling to discuss health concerns with parishioners, and to make home, hospital and nursing home visits when needed, to provide health education promoting a better understanding of the relationship between lifestyle, attitudes, faith and well-being, and to recruit and coordinate volunteers within the congregation.
Dr. Kay Rosenthal, PhD, RN of Estes Park, CO has been in the nursing profession since 1975, involved in Critical Care Nursing, Rural Nursing as a Clinician, and Administrator and Educator. She is now the President of the Colorado Rocky Mountain Health Ministry. She became involved in parish nursing two years ago and is presently working as a parish nurse for the United Methodist Church, Sheppard of the Mountains, and the Estes Park Good Samaritan.
Rosenthal is devoted to her parish nursing profession, seeing the value in health, healing and wholeness in the faith community.
Rosenthal states, "Estes Park has developed a task force in the last six months in an effort to get parish nursing in all churches in the community."
"What we are doing mostly is health education," said Rosenthal. Discussions include Organ Donation, Alcohol Screening, Women’s Check-Up Day, Mental Health Month, Suicide Warning Signs and Blood Pressure Screening and Brown Bag.
"The brown bag assessment is predominately used by our elderly population, explains Rosenthal, but many ages can benefit, brown bag provides an opportunity for the congregation to bring all their medications for assessment by a licensed pharmacist for potential drug interaction, this includes drug to herbal interaction." "This also provides an opportunity for individuals to discuss with the pharmacist why they are taking some of the medications that have been prescribed," said Rosenthal.
"Large populations of rural areas are utilizing parish nurses partly due to rural isolation; it has been very successful," said Rosenthal.
While attending Creighton University, Rosenthal learned how to give the sacrament of the sick to Catholic patients. Rosenthal explained, "In the 1980 and 1990’s religion was removed from health care facilities and the spiritual side of care was suppressed. This was due in part to the health care crisis and financial changes. Parish nursing is bringing that spin back to my nursing practice, there is so much high tech, and we’re looking to incorporate high tech with high touch."