Parish Nurses Offer Wholistic Approach to Health

BY: Yvonne Betowt


HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (RNS) -- Each Wednesday around 4 p.m., Eugenia Evans places a sign reading "Get Your Blood Pressure Checked" at the end of a long table in the fellowship hall of First Baptist Church. She lays out a digital blood-pressure monitor and the chart she's using to track the weekly blood-pressure readings made on her fellow congregants.

Shortly, some of the church's many senior citizens begin to drift into a fellowship hall made increasingly more welcoming by the aromas from a kitchen where cooks prepare the weekly meal for those attending Wednesday evening services.

Evans, a registered nurse, spends five hours each week working in an experimental program she designed for her fellow First Baptist members. In addition to Wednesday blood-pressure checks, she will coordinate health-related programs for members and people in the community and serve as a resource for those needing referrals to other types of care.

She has been hired--though just for five hours each week--to be the church's first parish nurse. In that role, said Evans, who has worked at Huntsville Hospital for nearly two decades, she focuses on the whole person--physical, spiritual and emotional.

Parish nursing is not so much a set of skills as a concept. Programs are designed in different ways to meet the needs of individual congregations and communities. But generally, parish nursing combines a traditional ministerial/counseling function with expertise in health care education, screening and referral skills.

And that suits Evans: "It's why I went into nursing--to minister to people," she said.

The term "parish" is more often associated with the Roman Catholic faith and is somewhat foreign to most evangelical Protestant congregations.

"'Parish' is not a word that rolls right off a Baptist tongue," Evans said. "But it makes people ask what it is."

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