Recently I spent the afternoon drinking coffee at McDonald’s in the warmest spot in the restaurant. It was my neighbour's choice and one of his regular outing locations; when meeting with other seniors his age from the community. Sure enough, we ran into a couple people he knew and quickly grabbed their favourite booth. We spent time talking about the weather, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and they gave each other updates on their friends (and their own) health concerns. In that moment, I felt the weight of many lives connecting, as well as the ministry of others coming together. In past months, with our local Diaconal Ministry Developer Lucinda, we have been talking about why and how deacons can be involved in senior care. I have also had the privilege of meeting with Kathy from The River Community CRC about her role as Parish Nurse (PN). It is in the intersection of these moments, with these people, that I sat considering how difficult, but important, a ministry of presence like this is in our society of speed, individualism and production.
At past NADC meetings, in these senior care discussions, we have also spent time considering the different demographics of whom we call seniors and what kind of factors exist as they move through a wide range of age. We talked about deacons being a resource for the care and flourishing of people in this time of life but we also made note that their peers, their families and the congregation as a whole is part of the support network needed. As I sat with Kathy, learning about parish nursing, I appreciated how blessed a position like that would be as an additional piece to a care network. The benefit, along side caring for seniors, would be that a parish nurse would also be available at the other end of the age spectrum and anywhere in between. They walk along side people from birth to death.
The role of the parish nurse is diverse, dependent upon the gifts of the individual, as well as the needs of the community in which they are present. Some foundational requirements do exist, such as being a registered nurse (RN), being part of a national oversight body, adhering to formal standards of practises and following certain codes of ethics. Within that structure, the nurse is also required to keep current with knowledge and training by keeping up with regular continuing education. On top of their medical training, a parish nurse will also be involved in a certificate program to explore a holistic approach to healing and care, looking at the vocation as a deeper calling, including spiritual practises within the ministry and being affirmed by a faith community.
When I asked Kathy what a parish nurse does from day to day, she stressed that it was not always the same, it depended on the needs of the community as well as the assets on hand. She described visits to homes, appointments in her office space, appointments at the hospital with patients and practitioners. Another aspect of the role was being available and on call. She mentioned that sometimes people just need to be listened to, but at other times need someone they trust who can help navigate the health care system. Kathy described a scenario of care that would often look like as follows.
An individual goes to the hospital or to their doctor for consultation about an issue and is overwhelmed with the information they are given as well as the emotion that it brings. When returning home, and after processing it for a time, people often need someone to debrief with, someone to listen, someone to help digest the information and potentially even explain some things that could not be processed in the moment of the appointment. A parish nurse can be this valuable resource to walk with people in this way. They have the benefit of being in deeper relationship, knowing more about their lives in a holistic way and even having the extended history of the networks and circumstances of the congregant members life. With their professional status, parish nurses can also help access medical files and explore medical options that many people would not know about on such an informed level. They are a huge resource for follow-up care that is so often needed.
The other thing that is key to the parish nursing role, is the connection to being a part of the ministry team of a church. They can act as educator, health councillor, advocate and liaison to other professionals and ministry care team members. Kathy said she works along side the council members and pastors to be able to care for diverse needs of body, mind and spirit. When health and wellness counselling moves past the realms of their medical training, parish nurses can either partner or refer people to pastors and/or trained psychologists.
It was so wonderful to be a part of these conversations and learn about the resources that parish nurses are. If you think your church has the resources to support a ministry like this, or you would like to speak more about it in person with someone, I would encourage you to reach out and I can help connect you further. To learn more about parish nursing check out the attached files to this story, look into options with the Parish Nursing Certificate Program at Taylor Seminary and go to this website, www.CAPNM.ca. I would be happy to connect you with Lucinda or Kathy upon request. firstname.lastname@example.org