Coalition works to expand parish nurse program in state

5/17/2013

From right: Patricia Magyar of UMCOR and Drs. Kalindi and Cherian Thomas.

Oklahoma. "There are few places in the nation where the health issues are so focused," said Barry Bennett. No one else in the room refuted him. They knew the unhealthy statistics about Oklahomans.

They had gathered April 8 in Oklahoma City to discuss the potential of a little-used model for healthcare: parish nursing (also called faith community nursing).

The meeting was facilitated by consultants Cherian and Kalindi Thomas. The couple, global experts in parish nursing, is collaborating with the Oklahoma Conference’s Office of Mission.

At the United Methodist Ministry Center, the Thomases and other professionals joined Rev. Bennett, who co-chairs the Oklahoma Conference Mission & Service Ministry Team, which oversees the Office of Mission, and pastors at El Reno’s Wesley UMC.

The diverse group included teachers in the Kramer School of Nursing, Oklahoma City University; leaders of Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Oklahoma; an executive from UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief), New York City; and a minister of congregational care for OKC-St. Luke’s UMC.

The discussion ranged widely and concluded with hopes for a parish nurse training course in the fall.

"It’s very exciting what is bubbling up," Bennett said. "Around this table are people with the expertise to change the world, to bring the love and grace of Jesus Christ into the places of need."

"We are happy for the time for brainstorming and to coordinate how we move forward," said Cherian Thomas. "I think it’s all the Lord’s doing. In three months I was able to connect with so many wonderful people on this one topic."

Partnerships between faith communities, to promote and sustain this nursing model, were emphasized by Patrick Raglow, executive director of Catholic Charities.

"We are called to be present with each other," he said.

Parish nursing is ecumenical, agreed Professor Susan Barnes of OCU. "Nurses are going to be a pivotal force," especially in rural communities, as healthcare systems evolve in the United States, she predicted.

A timeline of parish nursing in Oklahoma was traced by Mary Diane Steltenkamp of Catholic Charities. It included OCU, which trained 83 such nurses during the years 2000-’03. In 2004, the course transitioned to the Catholic Charities, Steltenkamp reported. It is internationally accredited.

Patricia Magyar said UMCOR has a resource toolkit that can enhance the work in Oklahoma. The United Methodist Health Ministry Network offers seed money for churches to begin health ministries and scholarships for parish nurse training, and publishes newsletters. An email listing service connects 900 parish nurses.

The value of parish nursing resonated in one success story told by Steltenkamp. Health literacy is one challenge in this state. A Woodward family believed cancer was contagious, so a terminally ill mother had been separated from her children. Education by a parish nurse reunited the family.

— Holly McCray


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