LeAna Osterman is always on the lookout for people to help. It might be a neighbor, someone she meets at the grocery store, or a referral from her congregation at Lynden’s Sonlight Community Christian Reformed Church.
Osterman, a retired nurse and hospital administrator, is one of more than 200 mostly volunteer faith community nurses and health ministers working across Whatcom, Skagit, Island and San Juan counties.
Formerly called parish nurses, most faith community nurses are retired, but still licensed, registered nurses. Osterman describes their goal as helping community members in the “care of body, mind and spirit.”
Although each nurse is supported by one of 90 church congregations across the region, the care they offer isn’t limited to church members. About 75 percent of the people they serve are seniors.
“We are happy to assist anyone, whether they’re in a congregation or not,” Osterman says. “We just see the opportunity to help someone and take it on.”
The nurses are supplemented by health ministers, lay members of their congregations who receive training to work with church pastoral staff and the nurse to help individuals and families, or offer programs to the community.
Overseeing it all is the Health Ministries Network, an outreach arm of PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center.
Health Ministries Network provides annual training for new nurse and lay volunteers, as well as ongoing support and regular meetings to keep the volunteers up-to-date on community resources and services available for the people they serve.
Health crises can often be spiritual and emotional crises
Sharon Somers-Hill, Health Ministries Network
Jeanne Brotherton and Sharon Somers-Hill are the education and program coordinators at Health Ministries Network. Like Osterman, they are passionate about their mission.
“Health crises can often be spiritual and emotional crises, and lead to many questions for people,” Somers-Hill says. “As good as the medical system is, it doesn’t have time to deal with these questions, but we can.”
Adds Brotherton: “Our nurses work directly with patients and their families, but we also have contact with just about every social agency in the area and can offer information or refer them directly.”
In addition to referring patients to social agencies, the Health Ministries Network and its faith community nurses and health ministers offer a variety of other services. Some are one-on-one interactions; others might be classes or clinics offered in church buildings or community centers. Services include:
▪ Providing continuity of care by visiting patients before they are discharged from the hospital and again at home;
▪ Weekly exercise classes;
▪ Blood-pressure screening clinics;
▪ Classes on diabetes care, fall prevention, and end-of-life issues;
▪ Grief support;
▪ Assistance navigating the health-care system;
▪ Hospital visits for patients without family nearby.
Brotherton says an unsung but important service offered by the nurses and ministers is visits to homebound seniors.
“For homebound seniors, especially if they have no family nearby, we can offer connection and something to look forward to,” she says.
Some community faith nurses are compensated. The story was updated Oct. 29, 2015.
Linda Shindruk is a Lynden writer.
Health Ministries Network
Online: healthministriesnetwork.net. The website includes a link to a list of participating churches and contact information.
Christian Health Care Center’s Care Transitions program that uses faith community nurses to help residents is one of eight winners of this year’s Peace Builder awards from Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center. The Lynden center won the award in the category for health care.
The awards ceremony will be Nov. 20 at Settlemyer Family Hall at Bellingham Technical College. Details: 360-676-0122, whatcomdrc.org.