Parishes’ nurse programs help meet physical needs

While many parish senior ministry programs target the spiritual life, some also offer programs to address the physical wellbeing of seniors.

And two Omaha parishes – St. Wenceslaus and St. Margaret Mary – are among several that include a nursing services program to help seniors remain active and engaged.

"We’re fortunate to have a parish nurse program, as do many parishes – supported by CHI Health," said Mary Eileen Andreasen, a nurse volunteer and director of adult faith formation for the parish.

Called Faith Community Nursing, the program is supported with education and other resources by CHI’s hospitals and clinics, said Ronette Sailors, coordinator of CHI’s Faith Community Health Network.

"Churches are there to connect with their people, so a health ministry is an intentional way to carry out their mission," Sailors said.

Nurses at St. Wenceslaus perform foot checks for diabetic parishioners and blood pressure checks after a designated Mass the second Sunday of each month, and offer educational programs on health topics.

"We want to make sure our adults are better educated regarding health procedures and health in general," Andreasen said.

"We feel that our parishioners really value coming to a safe place for a free lecture that’s convenient, in a place they know, to learn about their health," she said.

A February session, "Is It Normal Aging or is it Something Else?" presented by certified dementia practitioner Nancy Flaherty, highlighted the difference between memory changes in normal aging and early signs of dementia.

The next session is May 15, with Dr. Douglas Dunning, a parishioner and family physician with CHI Health Clinic, who will talk about heart attack and stroke prevention.

Programs generally are held four times a year and draw about 70 people, Andreasen said.

At St. Margaret Mary Parish, exercise classes help parishioners stay healthy and active, said parish nurse Lucretia Danielson.

With classes twice a week at the Sorensen Community Center, Danielson leads about 10 to 15 parishioners and other community members in using hand weights and chair exercises, and working on leg strength, posture and balance.

Preventing falls is particularly important for seniors, she said, because a fall can lead to a deterioration of health.

Nurses at St. Margaret Mary also provide blood pressure checks the third Sunday of each month after Masses and at other parish events, and conduct in-home visits to seniors for health checks, communication and medical referrals if necessary, she said.

"I also take Communion to people, so I get to provide a home visit to see if they need any other kind of help," Danielson said.

"Our mission is to promote health as wholeness and holiness of mind, body and spirit," she said.

Compassion for those suffering serious health challenges also is a key focus of parish nursing. For example, St. Wenceslaus’ nursing ministry includes a cancer support group that meets the third Wednesday of each month, said Andreasen, who leads the group with another nurse.

The support group began in January and provides emotional support, resources, discussion, prayer and occasional crafts, she said. The group held a Mass April 29 for people dealing with cancer, and anointed the sick after the Mass.

"We want to build a community so these cancer patients feel that people care what they’re going through."

CHI’s Sailors said the social and spiritual aspects of health ministry are important.

"These nurse volunteers give that extra care to the spirit, showing Christian caring and love," Sailors said, "demonstrating that their parish cares about the lives of their parishioners."

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