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Washington County Parish Nursing Program marks 15 years

'It's really drawn congregations together'

June 03, 2011|MAEGAN CLEARWOOD | maegan.clearwood@herald-mail.com

The 15th anniversary of the Washington County Parish Nursing Program Thursday was a celebration of thousands of blood-pressure tests, hundreds of health fairs and events — and innumerable prayers.

More than 50 congregations and more than 100 nurse volunteers are involved in the county program, parish nurse Coordinator Wendy Zimmerman said.

Parish nurses — many of whom are either retired or work elsewhere in addition to doing volunteer work — integrate spirituality with health care among their congregations.

Linda Henesy, a member of the Parish Nurse Advisory Board, has been a parish nurse since the program's beginning.

"As health care nurses, we weren't doing a lot with spiritual health. It wasn't even popular in textbooks at the time, so the parish nursing program came at the right time," she said. "It's really drawn congregations together."

The program was founded by the Rev. Granger Westberg in Chicago, where it eventually was recognized by the American Nurses Association. Gail Petre brought the program to Washington County, where she served as a parish nurse coordinator for two years.

"The 'aha' moment was when I was thinking about the relationship between pastors and nurses. Nurses are very versatile, they can do anything .... Then the puzzle pieces started coming together," she said.

Today, the parish nursing program has reached international levels, growing from 12 volunteers to more than 10,000, Zimmerman said.

Parish nurse Linda Mason said the county program branch, which is sponsored by Meritus Medical Center, logged 4,854 hours of volunteer work in its last fiscal year alone.

"It's really a very broad area. Everyone has something to do special at their church. You can get so involved, even if it's just sitting down and praying," Henesy said.

Nurses work with their pastors to identify parishioners in need and find ways they can serve their community.

"The program is a really good way to help people week-to-week .... Nurses and pastors are two professions that work very well together," said the Rev. Jim Swecker, who works with Henesy at Rehoboth United Methodist Church.

Henesy said that much of the nurses' work involves education and support through health fairs, visits and blood-pressure tests.

"We're not competing for anything. We're here to serve and support, to provide information and knowledge. There's never information that I'm not surprised that they don't have, because so many people don't understand the body and mind connection," she said.

Among the speakers at the celebration were Joseph Ross, president and chief executive officer of Meritus Health, and new program Director Allen Twigg.

"Faith and spirituality are essential elements of health," Twigg said. "When people become ill, when people become broken, we know they're healed through spiritual health."

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