Nurses Without Borders
SAUSALITO, CA (ASRN.ORG) -- We tend to think of nurses as yet another item on that expensive list labeled “medical care,” but around the country about 15,000 nurses, most of them acting as volunteers, provide elderly support services free of charge. The members of the faith community nurse movement, as it’s called, are available to anyone, regardless of religion. In many communities, getting help is simply a matter of picking up the telephone.
While they do not offer prolonged, direct nursing care, the list of things they do provide is a long one, including finding volunteers to help with driving, providing respite care for caregivers, and helping the elderly to navigate everything from housing to insurance to the health care system. Once those resources are in place, faith community nurses often continue to check in on patients on a regular basis.
The Rev. Deborah L. Patterson, executive director of the International Parish Nurse Resource Center in St. Louis, said the nurses do not charge for their help because “that is totally opposed to the ethos of this work, just as a pastor or chaplain would not charge for a home visit or a hospital call.” Faith community nurses don’t even inquire about finances, she added. “It is assumed that people will first use the resources they have available, and this will be a support beyond that,” she said.
Faith community nurses began their work in response to the realization that “older folks were falling through the cracks,” Dr. Patterson said. Helping the aging population continues to be their primary focus.
Indeed, said Dr. Patterson, these “nurses are encouraged to reach out to the neighborhood and beyond — and most do through community health fairs, food pantries, women’s shelters and other services, as well as accepting referrals for folks who need help.”
“This profession is to help people, not harass them,” Dr. Patterson added. “If a parish nurse is acting professionally, they would respect anyone’s request to keep their religious beliefs private.”
Still, religious groups generally provide the financial foundation for the nurses’ work. One St. Louis-area church has supported a nurse for over 20 years with donations from churchgoers. The Deaconess Foundation, also in St. Louis, has provided over $2 million during the last 20 years to pay nurses’ salaries and benefits and to hire administrative staff.
Where to find some extra help in your area? The web site of the International Parish Nurse Resource Center offers links to similar groups around the country, as well as a directory of statewide coordinators affiliated with hospitals, congregations and other groups. The Health Ministries Association which also has a faith community nurse network, offers a roster as well.
On the East Coast, the Shleimut provides services “within the culture of the Jewish tradition,” said Roberta Schweitzer, who has been a congregational nurse for synagogues since the late 1980s. And the Union for Reform Judaism provides guidelines for congregations wishing to create programs of their own.
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Liz Di Bernardo