Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hot Topics in Caregiving 3: Community Care Initiatives - Faith Community Nursing

Most caregivers are thrown into the heat of the caregiving fire by an emergency situation and have little time to look for what resources are available. Take time to look ahead and see if any of the community care initiatives, reviewed in the next few posts, are available in your community and how you can access their benefits.

Faith Community Nursing (FCN):  This concept has been, and still is, known by many names: Congregational Nursing and Parish Nursing and Church Nursing are just a few.  But in 2005, the American Nurses Association changed to this standard term to better reference the non-denominational nature of the concept.

The practice of FCN focuses on the protection and promotion of health, prevention of illness, injury and disease, and alleviation of suffering within the values, beliefs and practices of a faith community.

The FCN definition above means there is no set “picture” of any FCN program, which is actually a great thing. It means that programs can be tailored to each community; and they are.

A faith community is a group of individuals brought together by shared beliefs.They are similar to a family and come to know needs within the group. A faith community becomes a starting place to offer help to those in need. FCN programs are non-denominational and don’t always have ties to a specific faith group, yet may be housed in a church, synagog, or temple, offering space for the ministry.They are programs that intentionally minister to both the health and spirit of an individual, while being nondenominational.

There is an interesting relationship that has developed between faith communities and medical practitioners. I’ll illustrate this by giving you a brief picture of FCN in my own community. 

One of the two main hospital systems in our community realized that by having a link into the faith communities, they could help promote wellness, reduce unnecessary emergency visits (often by un or underinsured patients) and in turn, reduce costs, help the community, and let the community know how they can offer other services. Taking education and wellness initiatives door-to-door wasn’t where to start. But find a group of people already working together who know one another’s needs and you have a place to build a point of service within a community. Building service then builds reputation and then when medical services are needed, where do the patients go?  In its simplest form, from this top (hospital system) down (to community) approach, it can be a marketing tool. But read on - it’s much more. What I’ve learned about the leaders in any FCN program is that they are CONNECTORS, linking people in need with services, becoming a hub for information flow. They are embedded in the community and know what’s available, and even more importantly, know how to access those services. It works in other ways too, as doctors will refer patients to the FCN programs to help them find additional support for their ongoing care needs. 

Caregiver check:  Call your local hospital to find out if they are connected with a faith community nursing program and ask what services are provided. 

There are many FCN programs that do not have a connection to any particular hospital too.  Community leaders will start programs or partnerships to unite care providers in different specialty areas to reach out to faith communities and facilitate wellness. There are many interfaith initiatives that use faith networks as a way to get information to community members about services available to them, whether free blood pressure checks, mammograms, or other preventive services.

Programs also start within individual faith communities when members of that community identify a need and seek resources for filling it. It may be diabetes prevention, blood pressure checks, or other forms of health screening. They then look to the larger community and its resources to fill the need. For example, if a church leader has been ministering to a number of congregation members who are suffering with uncontrolled diabetes, he or she may seek resources within the community to help address the issue at that church, not just for that individual.

Caregiver check:  Call the church local to your caree, even if he or she is not a member, ask if they have any health ministries, what they are, and how you can plug into those services. If they don’t, ask if there are any that do. Don’t let a lack of connection to a place of worship hold you back.  Church communities do welcome the chance to minister to others as an outreach.  

Meals on Wheels, a nation-wide nutrition outreach program, finds its community home in many churches and reaches from there into the community regardless of any denominational or faith belief (or non-belief) of its meal recipients. Such is the same with faith community nurses. They realize that a faith community is a place to start in offering health and wellness services to others. In my community, the Mobile Meals program actually started a nursing ministry, hiring nurses to provide support to meal recipients. They are in turn, supported by the FCN leaders. In this case, the Mobile Meals nursing ministry has provided community case management services for 2,000 daily meal recipients.Though not all Mobile Meals programs do this, it's certainly a best-practice that is making a huge impact on many lives and one possible because of the FCN program.

Caregiver check:  If your caree is receiving meals, ask the delivery person or agency if there are any other services that can be accessed in the community through their service.

Whether it is one volunteer in a specific church, a team of nurses offering services in many faith communities, or a hospital led program that has dedicated staff to filling healthcare needs within a community, all the models work to make a difference. They’re not going to replace a doctor or become your personal home health aide during a medical crisis. But they will connect you to services in your community.

So we know that FCN programs can look different, but what do they do? Let’s look at some scenarios:
  •  In one case, a woman’s husband was dying and she needed respite care. Through the FCN program, volunteers in a local church willing to help were identified and trained through the FCN program. The volunteers then took the lead on scheduling visits to the home to sit and visit with her husband so that she could have a couple hours break time a few days a week. All were volunteers, yet it was the FCN coordinator who knew where to start calling to get the woman’s need filled.  
  • A church member became concerned about the possible spread of flu with so many people gathering for worship during the height of a terrible flu season when vaccines were limited. The FCN program was able to get her educational materials about prevention techniques that could be shared throughout the church.
  • The Universal Medication Form (UMF) became available and used as a tool for reducing the number of errors in medication usage by individuals that was causing avoidable emergency room visits. FCN nurses worked within 100 different faith communities in their county to distribute the forms and teach people how to use them.  
  • The FCN coordinators trained community volunteers willing to teach a teen pregnancy prevention program within faith communities. 
Looking for Faith Community Nursing programs may be an answer to quickly connecting to resources within your community, and especially for long distance caregivers, may be the most efficient way to determine what is available when a loved one needs care.

The International Parish Nurse Resource Center offers a worldwide LIST (by State) of program coordinators.

Many thanks to Georgia Lanford and Jenny Holmes, leaders of the Spartanburg Regional Congregational Nursing program for providing me a wealth of information that I in turn have shared with you.

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