By Maureen Smith
A Catholic Charities ministry has been working with the Mississippi Department of Health and the Mississippi-Louisiana chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to spread a faith community nursing program across the Diocese of Jackson. Catholic Charities used a grant from both organizations to pay to train faith community nurses near Natchez and Brookhaven this year. In return, the nurses hosted cancer awareness and healthy living presentations at parishes and churches in their areas, but that was just the beginning.
At Natchez Holy Family Parish, a group began to gather after the 8 a.m. Sunday Mass to hear Cathy Dale and Irma Moore speak about different kinds of cancer, healthy eating and more. Dale says the group continues to meet and share regularly.
Faith community nursing is not a strictly medical enterprise. “When I went to nursing school there was an emphasis on ‘wholistics,’ with a w, nursing – mind, body, soul,” said Dale. She and nurse Alice Methvein, who is a faith community nurse in Brookhaven, both explained that the program is an effort to bring back that holistic approach.
While some faith community nurses may provide services such as blood pressure checks, they are really there to minister to the community in a different way. “We make it easier for a patient to find out where to go. We are not supposed to be diagnostic or invasive, but we can be a resource and offer referrals,” said Methvein.
Ann Elizabeth Kaiser, who heads the Office of Health Ministry for Catholic Charities is the one who brought the program to the diocese. Her office is funded through a grant from the St. Dominic Health Foundation.
Each of the faith community nurses went through four days of training through the International Parish Nurse Resource Center. They learned about models for healthy living and how to introduce them into their faith communities.
Dale said this practice harkens back to when nurses were able to really connect with patients about everything going on in their lives. “When I went into home health there was a considerable amount of teaching that went on. You got the opportunity to tell patients that their outlook on life is important, and their relationship with their doctors are important,” said Methvein. She said that kind of education and one-on-one contact can help both doctors and patients. She and her group started last summer and are working with their parish to strengthen and expand their ministry.
Methvein has started working with the youth group in her parish because she wants the young people to know who she is and that they can use her as a resource. Healthy living should start early in life and includes learning how to deal with stress and other issues young adults are facing. She said she likes to sit in the back of the church so she can see everyone. Sometimes just being aware of the people around you will provide clues about someone who is going through a tough time.
Dale agreed. She said just getting to know a group will sometimes help someone open up about a worry. “Especially in an aging population so often symptoms sneak in, ‘so what’s a little fatigue?’ they might think. You have to ask, ‘how much fatigue, is it stopping you from your normal activities, things like that,” she explained. Seeing people week after week might also prompt a nurse to notice a change in someone and encourage them to seek the help they might not realize they can get.
“We went to the (training) program and we got inspired. We have a number of programs we want to implement,” Methvein explained. She said a breast cancer seminar was well attended and a prostate cancer presentation was so good, the men asked to have it again so they could get more people to attend.
Kaiser said many parishes have the seeds of faith community nursing without even realizing it. They may have a walking group, an exercise class or a support group who are talking about the health of a whole person. Nurses trained through this program are not meant to replace these ministries, but can integrate them into a model for overall healthy living and strengthen them. “Holistic encompasses the whole person. When individuals become stronger within the congregation it makes stronger communities,” she said.
Kaiser and a handful of the other nurses in the program are now trained as faith community nursing instructors. They plan to offer training for new groups in July. Any parish or nurse interested in attending should contact Ann Elizabeth Kaiser at email@example.com.