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Coordinator of parish nursing makes care more accessible

October 15, 2009|By MARLO BARNHART

Answers to some confusing health care questions might lie at local houses of worship.

Parish nurses are now widely available to perform routine screenings and to help people sort out how they should respond to health problems in their lives.

For more than 10 years, Wendy Zimmerman has served as coordinator of parish nursing through the Washington County Health System.

Most of those parish nurses, Zimmerman said, are volunteers, many in teams at larger houses of worship.

Zimmerman is paid part-time by Washington County Hospital and has an office on Howell Road.

"It has gotten so big that the name needed to be more widespread to include Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Mennonite, etc.," she said.

Now, the inferfaith program is being called "faith community nursing" to encompass all, Zimmerman said.

"Parish nursing serves a big need and is more accessible to people," she said. A houses of worship is still recognized as a community within a community where people care about each other.

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On Oct. 11, Zimmerman accompanied Parish Nurse Linda Mason to a service at Christ's Reformed Church on Franklin Street, where Mason is part of a parish nurse team active for 12 years.

There, they spoke about what the program offers people and how they can get what they might need.

Although the hot-topic question of vaccinations for seasonal flu and H1N1 flu didn't come up at the church program, Zimmerman said parish nurses are available for information.

"Some churches were doing the regular flu shots until the vaccine ran out," Zimmerman said. When the H1N1 vaccine arrives, parish nurses will be ready to help navigate the do's and don'ts.

Married with two daughters, Zimmerman earned her undergraduate degree in nursing from North Park University and did her postgraduate studies at DePaul University, both in Chicago.

"I worked in med/surg for years and then was a diabetes educator for while," Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said that while she was in the Midwest, she was aware of the parish nursing phenomenon, which began there in the mid-1980s because of the vision of the Rev. Granger Westberg.

"I was on the ground floor and worked as a Presbyterian parish nurse in Skokie, Ill., for seven years," Zimmerman said.

A big part of the mission of a parish nurse is to enable the members of a nurse's congregation to see and use the connection between spiritual practice and physical health. So much of what a parish nurse does is education -- focusing on wellness, prevention, advocacy, referrals.

When Zimmerman came to Hagerstown in 1994, she learned that Gail Petre was retiring as parish nurse coordinator -- one of several outreach nursing programs she had begun while on staff at Washington County Hospital.

"I said I wasn't interested," Zimmerman said. But she got interested and the rest is history.

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