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Thread: A healing ministry: Someone you should know

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    A healing ministry: Someone you should know

    This concept has been around for a while, but taking off again: http://www.boston.com/news/local/art...to_teach_heal/

    Margery Eramo’s nursing career didn’t end when she retired from the state Department of Public Health. In some ways, she says, that’s when it began.

    A woman of strong religious beliefs, Eramo reinvented herself six years ago as the First Church of Westwood’s faith community nurse, a holistic wellness ministry she says she has yearned to join her whole life.

    What’s even better, she adds, is the opportunity to live her faith in the same white church on Clapboardtree Street where she has worshiped for 45 years.

    “I’ve been able to keep my vocation going, which I’m pretty passionate about,’’ Eramo said. “Like anything, when you’re giving of yourself you get much more back.’’

    The parish nurse concept surfaced more than two decades ago in Chicago and soon spread across the country and the world. Today there are 12,000 such nurses nationwide, according to the St. Louis-based International Parish Nurse Resource Center, with 140 institutions, including Boston College, offering certification programs.

    The healing ministry has also surfaced in 23 other countries, most recently and fervently in Africa, and has been recognized as a specialty by the American Nursing Association. The concept spans faiths, whether parish or faith community nurses in Christian venues, congregational nurses in Jewish ones, or crescent nurses in Muslim communities. What the nurses have in common is the belief in using their faith and medical training to help congregants become physically, spiritually, and emotionally whole. And all practitioners must be registered nurses certified in the program.

    “This is really starting to take off where health care is fragmented,’’ said resource center director Deborah Patterson, a minister with the United Church of Christ. “So many people have fallen through the cracks.’’

    The lion’s share of this country’s parish and community faith nurses are on the West Coast and in the Midwest, where the movement began, Patterson said. Massachusetts, like New York and Pennsylvania, has lagged and is starting to catch up, she said. There is no estimate of how many parish nurses there are in the Bay State.

    Parish nurses follow the path of religious tradition to teach, preach, and heal, Eramo and others say. They do not strive to cure. Nor do they change dressings, or give shots, although they are qualified to do so. They do make health referrals, check in on the housebound, deliver religious celebrations such as Holy Communion, and listen to those who may question their faith. The ministry closely follows the concept that when people attend to others, they are also attending to God. Many serve in volunteer positions; other are paid at the discretion of their congregation’s leader.

    Braintree resident Carol Mather says she relies on Eramo to look in on her mother, Ginny, who lives alone in Westwood. She said Eramo not only steps in as a parish nurse but also as a longtime friend.

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    “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?’’

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    There are 12,000 parish nurses nationwide, of which about 35 percent are compensated for their work. And 140 institutions offer a range of certification programs to applicants, who must be registered nurses.

    At St. Anne’s Hospital in Fall River, the congregational health ministry/parish nursing program is open to nurses of all faiths, who must take 14 classes to become certified.

    The ecumenical healing ministry has appeared in 24 countries and is recognized as a specialty by the American Nursing Association.

    Parish nursing is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and is consistent with the basic assumptions of many faiths that you care for self and others as an expression of God’s love.

    There are a range of titles for this practitioner, including parish nurse, nurse in the church, and health minister for those in the Christian faiths; crescent nurse in the Muslim faith; and congregational nurse for Jews. The only difference is the denomination or faith tradition through which they function.

    The late Granger E. Westberg, a Lutheran clergyman, founded the parish nurse concept in Illinois in 1984. His work was based on his belief that medicine transcends the physical because true healing involves the body, the sould, and the mind.

    Sources: The International Parish Nurse Resource Center, St. Anne’s Hospital

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    This is one of the things I would love to do as a nurse, incorporate my faith in my profession! Lots of thanks for the information

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