Good story on Parish Nursing: Faith-based nursing focuses on spiritual health | | Green Bay Press-Gazette

Faith-based nurses in rural parts of Door County offer direction and comfort to patients in parts of the county where medical attention is not always easily accessible outside of doctors' office hours.

The role of a faith-based nurse, also known as a parish nurse, isn't so much about administering physical care as it is being a personal health counselor, an educator and a patient advocate, said registered nurse Carol Stevenson. Stevenson is the parish nurse for the Shepherd of the Bay Lutheran Church in Ellison Bay.

The concept of faith-based nursing was brought to Door County in 1997 by a registered nurse named Jo Steber, Stevenson said. Now, Door County is home to 10 such nurses, including one community nurse on Washington Island. The parish nurse programs are supported by the nurses' parishes and sometimes by grants.

Faith-based nurses are limited by what they can offer as far as services. "The thing that we emphasize is that we don't do hands-on nursing," Stevenson said. One reason for not being hands-on is liability. The closest the nurses come to any sort of hands-on care is conducting blood pressure screenings. Stevenson said that many medical issues can be caught early by checking a person's blood pressure.

The idea of parish nursing came in 1983, when the Rev. Granger Westberg, a Lutheran minister, envisioned a partnership between health-care systems and congregations — linking the resources of the health-care system to the faith community.

The American Nursing Association now recognizes faith-based nursing (as it is now called) as a career and has established standards for parish nursing practices. There are about 140 faith-based nursing programs around the world and of all denominations, Stevenson said.

"One of the main things is in Northern Door, we don't have access to medical care on the weekends, so that's why it's really helpful for the parish nurses to field the questions," Stevenson said.

A parish nurse may have hundreds of contacts a year, depending on a particular community's needs. These contacts can take place at the church, in a person's home, during classes or events and over the phone. The nurses also may be called upon to do a followup after a patient's surgery and assist people in getting needed medical equipment or extra in-home help.

Parish nurses put an emphasis on faith-based care and homeopathic remedies. "We explore both options" when it comes to telling patients about what their care options are, Stevenson said. "The goal is for people to realize how they can be healthier and more spiritual" while being relieved of suffering.

Registered nurse Carol Moellenberndt, a parish nurse for the United Methodist Church of Sturgeon Bay, echoes that sentiment.

"It's nice having a nurse in the church for the community of the church; it also helps to have someone talk about the body, mind and spirit working together," Moellenberndt said. Staying healthy is not just a matter of getting our body's healthy, but addressing emotional health and tying it all together. This is the goal that the nurses strive for, she said.

In the case of Washington Island, the nursing is more community-based as opposed to faith-based. Registered nurse Carole Machek, who calls herself a community nurse, works for the Washington Island Community Health Program (WICHP). She serves parishioners at Trinity Lutheran Church and Bethel Evangelical Free Church, but anyone in need can call upon Machek.

"We decided to go that route because we have a small population," about 700 people year-round, Machek said. Those who do not attend church are still free to call on Machek for assistance. Like the other faith-based nurses, she offers some basic medical advice, attends doctor's appointments, and facilitates additional care and services when needed. She doesn't offer faith-based treatment.

The island's clinic provides the hands-on care that community members need. "We actually connect people to services," Machek said. She also does a lot of blood pressure screenings, checks peoples' heart rates and holds informational gatherings.

Machek encourage people to know their own bodies and be their own advocates with their doctors and or their caretakers. Her holistic approaches are the same ones other parish nurses take with their patients. If someone is having trouble with high blood pressure, she will look for the root of the problem and help patients find healthy ways to try and remedy the issue, through stress reduction or diet, for example.

Nurses nationwide will be honored during National Nurses Week, May 6-12, and internationally on May 12.