Nurturing Body, Mind, and Spirit

Bonnie Kratzer explains the Parish Nurse program, in which volunteer parish nurses provide health education, screenings, and other services to churches and other community organizations.

The Parish Nurse Program at Cape Regional Medical Center, Cape May County, N.J., was initiated in 2003 through a grant funded by New Jersey Health Initiatives, a statewide grantmaking program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The initiative is a health education and community support program, which provides health education, wellness programs, and health screenings at more than 50 churches and other community organizations in the county.

Parish Nursing is the nurturing of body, mind, and spirit with an emphasis on health education, health promotion, and wellness. Parish nurses are volunteers who reach out to people in their congregations and in the community by serving as teachers, counselors, advocates, and resource liaisons. Free health screenings include blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and fracture risk testing, and are provided at community agencies, senior housing complexes, assisted living facilities, and civic associations, as well as at area churches.

There are several evidence-based education programs that are available through the Parish Nurse Program at Cape Regional Medical Center. The Stanford-based Chronic Disease Self-Management Program empowers those with a chronic disease to lead a healthy lifestyle, and this six-week course is held in various venues throughout the area.

A Caregiver Program that provides support and education to caregivers taking care of loved ones is held monthly at the medical center. One of the most popular programs is Project Healthy Bones, an education/exercise program for those with or at risk for osteoporosis. This currently is being held at five churches, and has health and support benefits for members. A new program, A Matter of Balance, will be started in the fall at churches for those who are at risk for falls and their consequences.

The most recent grant funding for Parish Nursing has come from Susan G. Komen for the Cure to provide breast health awareness, and mammograms for women in Cape May County. Through assisting with appointments, providing transportation, following up with support, and incentives for those having mammograms, many women have gone through the program who would not have received mammography screenings. Through collaboration with many other county and state agencies, we have been able to provide more referrals for additional services to our clients.

The real heroes of the Parish Nurse Program are the wonderful volunteers who give their time and talents to the program. They are always available to do the extra things that would not usually be there for others. In 2012, the Parish Nurse Program at Cape Regional Medical Center was awarded a National Hospital Charitable Service Award as a Program of Excellence by the Jackson Foundation, Atlanta, Ga. As quoted concerning the award,” Parish Nursing, though found throughout the United States, is a fairly unique concept, but it is one that can be replicated in other areas; and it does serve to unite individual parish nurses in all types of houses of worship.” So we truly thank the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for our initial funding and for the interest and support over the years so that the Parish Nurse Program, Cape Regional Medical Center, can continue our goal to identify and meet the health and wellness needs of Cape May County.