“I never feel that she’s judging us, she’s just always listening,’’ Mather said. “She has her eyes open.’
Which is a big part of the parish nurse’s job, said Liz Larkin, one of four at Sacred Heart Church in Middleborough.
Larkin began her career teaching children with emotional needs, went to nursing school when she was in her late 50s, and served the wellness ministry at St. Ann’s Church in Raynham before moving to Middleborough’s Oak Point in 2005. She and fellow nurses Shirley Bramante, Anna Meade, and Paulette Lessard hold blood-pressure clinics once a month, conduct CPR training, and even raised funds to buy four defibrillators for their parish, among other tasks and duties.
A parishioner may need fuel assistance, or information about assisted-living facilities, or help with bereavement and loss, said Marie Martin, a 22-year parish nurse at Blessed Sacrament Church in Walpole. Whatever the need, she said, it will be addressed.
Martin spoke about a parishioner she saw struggling through the worship service on a recent Sunday whom she later discovered was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease. She made a home visit and was able to help the woman and her husband, who had been isolated and without outside company for years.
“As a nurse, I wanted to fix things,’’ she said. “But just going through the door gives people a sense of being cared for.’’
Patterson said a major health issue all people face is loneliness. By entering congregants’ homes, or encouraging them to get out, parish nurses are offering a lifeline, she said.
They also fill other important roles, from prenatal care to education, Patterson said. “What if a parish nurse made sure every child in a five-block radius was immunized?’’ she mused. “That would be good, wouldn’t it? Or, if they made sure everyone knows the signs of a heart attack or stroke?’’
Parish nurses are among the health partners Norwood Hospital reaches out to in the 16 cities and towns it serves, said Mary Wallen, the hospital’s director of communications and marketing.
“Much of our work is as an informal liaison between the hospital and these nurses,’’ Wallen said. “We do outreach to make sure they are aware of the clinical services available here in the community, including our health education programs and support groups.’’
In return, the 54 parish nurses who work with the hospital are a valuable resource in assessing community needs, to help develop new programs to meet them, she said. The nurse also serves as a go-between, she said, to pass on information and help people take steps to get important things, like health care proxies, in place.
“It is extremely important for all adults to designate a health care agent who will convey their wishes in case they cannot do so themselves,’’ Wallen said.
Eramo said her service just boils down to her desire to help people, to let them know they matter, and to make the best use of her abilities.
“We are all here to help,’’ she said. “Our question always is, What can we do for you?’’