- Written by Margaret Bernhart
School has started, daylight grows shorter, and Labor Day is upon us—all reminders of the waning days of summer. Change is in the air. Soon the scorching heat will give way to lower humidity and fall’s reprieve.
Whether subtle or jarring, the momentum of change shifts our balance, disrupts our routines and rattles our repose. It impacts our lives and we are never the same. Our response to change can either be to submerge into lethargy or open our hearts to the breath of life, like a screaming new born baby. Change and its ensuing chaos can be less of an enemy and more of a friend for it can heighten awareness, shatter certainty, and engender perspective, while stirring our hunger for an authentic relationship with God.
We are taking a different tack with our book recommendation, and instead are highlighting a new thought provoking and enlightening journal. It has become a treasured guide in my own spiritual journey and a resource for growth and inspiration, not to mention more clicks on Amazon’s website for new books to read.
Ruth Beck, RN, in A Passion for the Ministry of Parish Nursing, Part II, shares about her vision for parish nursing to take a more prominent role in our community. She unearths some of the continuing cracks in the healthcare system, and explores solutions for folks often left behind. Many can have their lives dramatically improved through simple solutions often not available through governmental agencies. I hope you enjoy the fresh perspectives and are able to breathe a little more deeply. See you in the Fall.
Ruth Beck, RN, MSW
A Passion for the Ministry of Parish Nursing – Part II
Parish Nursing – A Broader Vision
Parish Nurses help meet the physical, psychological, spiritual and social needs of the individuals, families and groups within their Faith Community. They also look outside the building walls to see how their Faith Community can help meet the needs of the broader social community.
Since Parish Nursing was reintroduced in the 1960s by Lutheran minister Granger Westburg, over 5000 Parish Nurses have been trained nationwide. These healthcare professionals share their faith through health advocacy, education, and counseling.
An Impending Crisis – more needs than resources
Recent reports forecast an impending descent into a major healthcare and social service delivery systems crisis as Baby Boomers begin retiring. Too many people with overwhelming needs are competing for decreasing resources. Our already taxed healthcare system will leave more people stranded, and their families left to struggle for assistance. We need innovative solutions. Our country has majestic abundance. We have risen against adversity with heroism. It is time to focus on a population left in the social service and healthcare gap.
In the spring of 2002, I was trained as a Parish Nurse. Later I was commissioned by my church to serve as their Parish Nurse. I have been a Registered Nurse for over 25 years. Since 1986, I have been working in the rehabilitation field. Traveling to my clients’ homes, I assist with home modifications, vocational rehabilitation, and connecting them to community resources when they are without insurance coverage. I am constantly facing critical medical and personal needs that go unmet by Medicare and other types of insurance. Recently I tried to refer a client to Meals-On-Wheels in a rural county. Because she was only “disabled”, and under 60, she was not eligible to participate in the program. I had no idea that Meal-On-Wheels was only for the elderly. The case worker said there was a two-year waiting list in that county to accept new disabled clients. I have learned that if a person is classified as “disadvantaged” rather than “disabled” or elderly, getting affordable transportation in our area is next to impossible.
The Big Disconnect – finding appropriate help, and paying for it.
Those in need are frequently the least able to access help. Mastering the large network of social service agencies is usually performed by trained professionals. The elderly, infirmed and uneducated frequently have no knowledge of available services or how to successfully access them. They may lack the physical or mental stamina to search the network of services. Even if they do find an appropriate agency, often, it is intimidating for them to deal with automated answering services, and voice mail. Tired and frustrated, they may resort to just getting along, or doing without. It’s not until their lives cascade into a life threatening emergency that they get connected back into the system. When this happens, medical costs escalate, and the resulting financial and health stresses only deepen the spiral of disenfranchisement and poverty. Even the most knowledgeable and skilled social workers and healthcare professionals have difficulty finding agencies with appropriate services. Frequently, budgetary constraints further hinder an agency’s ability to serve clients. If you are elderly, disabled or have a minor child, you have the best chance of getting help. Unfortunately, the younger infirmed and temporarily disabled fall through the cracks, and may be excluded from the system.
For those who want to help, grants are one way to secure financial assistance. However, there are several problems inherent in the process. First, it is nearly impossible to get a grant for less than $2,500.00. Therefore, for an individual who needs a small amount of money to complete a project, grants are an inappropriate option. Secondly, for those who need larger sums of money, the grant process is a time consuming maze of frustration. Finding grants, writing them, administering and accounting for their distribution takes time, and a variety of skilled individuals. Most people who have the “clinical” skills to help people, do not have the “business / financial” skills to keep up with the administrative requirements and money.
An Alternative Solution – the Army of God
In the last century, the Federal Government started taking more of a leadership role in addressing healthcare and social service problems. In some instances, the costs of the programs far out weighed their impact.
There are individuals, groups, and organizations that demonstrate the vast army of volunteer labor, and charitable businesses. When linked together and organized, they can make a powerful impact on people’s lives and their community.
Countless professionals and skilled individuals are willing to volunteer their time to help fill the gap so that basic care is available to those in need. Often, the problem is how to procure the goods and services needed to complete the project. Raising $1,500.00 needed to construct a handicap ramp can be a formidable task. Fund raisers can take more time and energy, than building the ramp. If organized volunteer labor would link arms with charitable local businesses and national chains, a desperately needed handicapped ramp is simple and can immediately impact a family.
Christians in Florida’s capital can lead the way and demonstrate to other communities how to assist those excluded from the healthcare system. The solution is not more government programs and spending. The solution is for Faith Communities to take back their original role of caring for people – body, soul and spirit. Luke15:4-5 (NKJ) says:
What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’(NKJ).
We do not have to look far to find the one. Resources for locating the needy are as close as an emergency food bank, the discharge nurse at a local hospital, or the City Utility Department.
When I encounter an individual who is in desperate need of having their home retrofitted for a wheelchair, frequently there are additional basic needs. Many times they are simple things such as a ceiling fan, a space heater or a winter coat. Like the Shepherd who left the ninety-nine, we need to look after the one. The church can offer the grace of a loving community, plus provide an opportunity to get connected to the local church. The elderly and disabled who become immobilized due to health and transportation needs can be an outreach target.
A Parish Nurse becomes the conduit between the congregation and the disenfranchised. This ministry is not just for the elderly and disabled. Everyone has needs from time to time. Just because you have health insurance does not mean you will not have an unmet need in your life. Parish Nurses use their knowledge and resources within the congregation to meet the needs of the individuals, groups and families of the Faith Community. Then they look to the broader social community.
Because of their knowledge of the services available in the Faith Community, they can help with individual member needs, or coordinate a “Community Work Days” for a local shut-in. Helping with home repairs, yard work, and basic needs can be an incredible assistance for the shut-in. Having eyes to see the one will naturally initiate new ministries within a church.
Low Cost Solutions and High Speed Turnaround
The local church and other faith based groups can partner with individuals and businesses to get the job done. The Parish Nurse can link those who have time, talent, money and resources with those who are in need. A faith based organization such as the Community Parish Nursing Association could also do fund raising.
Private funding and charitable donations can assist with additional resources. Grants are part of the solution; however, they are restricted with regard to meeting modest needs. Individuals who require smaller amounts (e,g., $1,500.00) could apply for a financial award through a simple one page application. Cutting through the red tape of large charitable organizations is possible by offering low cost solutions, through mobilizing small groups of volunteers to provide high speed turnaround.
In recent decades, the government has been the driving force in funding and providing for the health and social services of people. Needs are escalating and money is declining. Neither raising taxes nor cutting programs is popular. Realistically, there are limits to what the government is able to do. Tapping into the growing expanse of volunteer labor, and private funding is an important way the upcoming health and social services crisis can be tackled.
I believe Parish Nurses will take a leadership role in bringing help to those in need. The Medicare and insurance gap creates a challenge. It can be overcome by meeting basic needs in a manner that is less costly and easier to solve. Parish Nurses are uniquely qualified to minister to the needs of the whole person. Working in team with other Parish Nurses, ministerial staff of individual Faith Communities, volunteer groups, along with business partners and government partnerships, we can bring health, healing, and the gospel to a hurting nation.
Recently, the Community Parish Nurse Association began meeting in Tallahassee. If you are interested in establishing or working in a healthcare ministry in your local Faith Community, please join us at the next meeting. We meet at Wildwood Presbyterian Church on the second Thursday of the odd months. Our next two meetings will be September 14, 2006 and November 9, 2006 at 7:00 pm at. For more information on this ministry, contact Ruth Beck at 850-562-3097.