By Barb Arland-Fye
Nurse Jennifer Hildebrand looked like she had just returned from a late-afternoon jog during a recent interview, but her workout actually involved housecleaning for a couple sidetracked by illness.
A longtime member of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire, Hildebrand demonstrates a commitment to her faith, nursing and people in need. In her new position as coordinator of the Health Ministry Nurse Program for Genesis she has the opportunity to focus on all three commitments in a holistic way.
As part of her responsibilities Hildebrand promotes parish nursing and assists parishes and congregations interested in establishing a parish nurse program.
The national initiative for this specialty nursing practice developed in 1980 when the Rev. Granger Westburg, a Lutheran pastor working as a hospital chaplain, observed how Christian nurses brought added value to patient care. He and Catholic nurse Anne Solari Twadell created a model of care extending beyond the hospital walls, according to a Catholic Parish Nurse Network brochure.
In 2001, Genesis Visiting Nurse Association launched its own Health Ministry Nurse Program as a partnership connecting members of the faith community to a wide range of services. Individual faith communities oversee the activities of the health ministry nurse (or parish nurse) while Genesis provides resources through networking and professional development.
Parish nursing seeks to promote health and disease prevention by addressing body, mind and spirit, Hildebrand said. A parish nurse serves as a faith integrator, health advocate, health educator, personal health counselor, referral agent, volunteers’ facilitator and support groups’ developer.
“Parish nurses do not do hands-on care,” Hildebrand noted. “A parish nurse or health ministry nurse will explain, find resources; we’re there to listen; we like to pray with people, bring educational programs to congregations … I see the parish nurse as the glue that keeps the congregation together.” The parish nurse coordinates committees that do such things as send greeting cards, manage the food ministry or organize transportation for individuals going to doctor appointments, she added.
“Many of the goals within Catholic Charities that we have for the Parish Nurse Program, and in a broader sense, parish health ministry directly, reflects the work that Jennifer is undertaking,” said Kent Ferris, director of Social Action and of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Davenport.
“While she is looking at parishes from a multitude of faiths, we both want to support the parishes that already have nurses, encourage others to consider adding a nurse, and provide educational materials to those who undertake parish health ministry in the absence of a nurse.”
Forming a Health Cabinet of parishioners interested in the wellbeing of the people in their congregation is an important component of health ministry, Ferris and Hildebrand say. Health Cabinet members could include individuals with legal backgrounds, people with medical or financial expertise, social workers, nurses and others.
Ferris notes that extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist who take Communion to homebound individuals may see someone who needs additional help. “Where you’ve got a cabinet and a parish nurse, they can provide the referral that may be needed,” Ferris said. “Where it is in place, a Health Cabinet is an invaluable resource for the parish as well as the priest.”
Hildebrand said she hopes to get her parish involved in health ministry nursing and to consider the possibility of having a parish nurse to serve the congregation.
As a nurse for 29 years, she believes she has been led by God to her current position in health ministry for Genesis. “I’ve learned a lot along the journey,” she said, “and I have a lot to share.”
(Hildebrand can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (563) 421-5531.)