Faith Community Nursing Network Touches Lives, Heals Spirits
Release Date: 04/03/2007

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OMAHA, Neb. –Penny Sampson, RN, FCN, leads a new and busy ministry at Christ Community Church in Omaha. For her, no two days are alike, but the physical and spiritual support that she is able to provide for members of her congregation makes it all worthwhile. “As a parish nurse, I’m able to blend my faith with my profession,” Sampson said. “I don’t recall any other nursing job where it was encouraged or even expected of me to use my faith to connect with patients on a spiritual level;

It wasn’t a new idea when the program came to Alegent Health two years ago. What began as the parish nurse movement at 12 health care clinics within the Chicago area has spread internationally to congregations of all faiths and sizes. Founded by Rev. Dr. Granger E. Westberg in the mid 1980s, the parish nurse movement was created as a revolutionary approach to holistic health. The idea came from the holistic health clinics that Westberg opened in churches in the 1970s. Having a member of the clergy, a physician and a nurse all in one place to help heal the body, mind and spirit of the patient made it possible for the patient to be cared for on the physical, emotional and spiritual level.

At the core of the program is the integration of faith and health. Because of the nurses’ ability to have one foot in the humanities and one foot in the sciences, they became the translator and counselor for the patient. The nurses’ ability to personally relate to each patient placed them at the forefront of the parish nursing program. Today, nearly two decades later, the parish nurse movement has come to eastern Nebraska and southwest Iowa in the form of Alegent Health’s Faith Community Nursing Network.

The program initially received funding from a three year grant awarded through Alegent Health’s Community Benefit Trust. Now beginning its third year, the Faith Community Nursing Network is stronger than ever and continuing to grow. “By utilizing faith community nursing to reach those in our community with unaddressed needs, we are providing them with resources they never knew were available,” said Ronnette Sailors, RN, BSN, FCN, program coordinator, Faith Community Network.

With only four full-time employees in the program, the focus falls on the volunteer nurses, each of whom is asked to donate a minimum of four hours each week to her congregation and the community itself. “This program is mostly about mentoring,” said Denise McNitt, RN, MS, division executive of Home Care and Community Based Services. “The goal is to work side by side with the congregations to empower people in the community.”

Within the last year nurses based at the 41 congregations that comprise the Alegent Health Faith Community Nursing Network have served more than 20,000 congregation members. From July 2005 through June 2006, thirteen of the nurses who used Alegent Health’s web-based documentation system saved the patients they worked with more than $108,000 by helping them detect early warning signs and avoid unnecessary trips to the emergency room or doctor’s office.

Programs like the Faith Community Nursing Network allow Alegent Health to extend our Mission beyond hospital walls and promote good health within the communities we serve. “We are more than just four walls,” said McNitt. “The work that our nurses do within each congregation touches lives and promotes good will by encouraging individuals to take responsibility for their health.”

More that 47,000,000 Americans live without health insurance everyday, but because of Alegent Health’s Faith Community Nursing Network the number of people going untreated is declining significantly within the communities we serve.

“We can’t be the first line of health care services to everybody,” Sampson said. “But we can help fill in the gaps where today’s health care delivery system falls short.”