|Carol Welsh, a registered nurse who has coordinated St. Joseph Church’s parish health ministry for 17 years, is retiring.|
In 1998, Carol Welsh entered the first Parish Nursing training program offered in Nashville, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Now after 17 years coordinating St. Joseph Church’s parish health ministry, Welsh is retiring.
“Faith Community” or “Parish” Nursing is a specialization in which registered nurses care for individuals within a congregation of any denomination, while promoting health and wellness in the surrounding community through outreach efforts.
“The parish nurse is a representative, first and foremost, of her parish, her church,” said Welsh. “So you’ve got to be grounded in your spirituality, so that you can give guidance, whether it’s here in the church office, or in the hospital or in a person’s home. It may be grief counseling, or someone needing a listener, ideas for resources, or maybe just emotional support.”
According to Mary Donnelly, who currently coordinates the parish nursing training program through Saint Thomas Hospital, which took over from Vanderbilt in 2011, faith community nurses are not home care or public health nurses, but they work with these and other specialties in a collaborative way. “They are the educators, the volunteer trainers, the health counselors and the referral agents,” said Donnelly. “They are trusted professionals who bridge the gap between the congregant and the health care system.”
Some parish nurses do volunteer their time, while others are hired to run a church’s health ministry. Welsh has been a part-time, paid member of the St. Joseph staff since the very beginning. “That’s lent a lot of credibility to the position, and continuity, because volunteers are great, but they kind of come and go,” said Welsh. “It’s easier to come and go when you’re a volunteer, than when you’re actually part of the staff.”
Welsh works Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, six to eight hours each day. Part of that time is spent seeing people who need her services in her church office; the rest of the time she’s out and about, visiting people in the community who are sick, grieving or in need of other medical or spiritual care.
“Visiting people in their homes, getting to know them in that environment, is a very special and sacred part of parish nursing,” said Welsh. “We ask, ‘Would you like to pray?’ or ‘Would you like me to say a prayer?’ That always has to be part of it, because we are staff members of the church, trying to help people on that spiritual path of their life. That’s huge and wonderful and very rewarding.”
The St. Joseph health ministry Welsh coordinates is a team of 20-25 nurse volunteers and lay parishioners – about half and half – all St. Joseph parishioners. “From there we do all our other ministries that come under my umbrella, so to speak,” explained Welsh. “I rely on volunteers. If you’re going to expand, and do other things and get out into the community and visit your parishioners, you can’t do it all yourself.”
St. Joseph’s health ministry offers a variety of services, like conducting blood pressure screenings at St. Joseph, as well as at two HUD-subsidized high-rise towers directly behind the church, as part of an Outreach Wellness Check Ministry. Welsh and her team train parishioners and teachers from St. Joseph School in CPR classes and AED workshops. They facilitate a Red Cross blood drive four times a year, and recently developed a Yesterday’s Kids group of senior citizens who meet twice a month to play bingo or board games.
The health ministry also hosts a parish food pantry, which currently serves 30 St. Joseph and area families.
“We started the food pantry about 13-14 years ago,” said Welsh. “We saw a need to fill a gap for people who didn’t have the proper ID to go to some of the places like Second Harvest, where they have to give their income and other information. So we started this food pantry where all we needed is a name and address.”
The food pantry also provides an opportunity for St. Joseph School students to do some community service work. Requests go out for particular needed food items which are delivered to the parish the first weekend of each month. Then the seventh grade Honor Society students bring the boxes of donated goods up to the pantry. In addition, once a month, each class in the school has an assigned item to donate, and if all the students donate that item, they get a brief reprieve from wearing their school uniforms. Students also support the pantry by doing fundraisers like car washes.
The food pantry is just one of many aspects of being a parish nurse that Welsh looks back fondly on as she prepares to relinquish her leadership role. “I will miss being with the families in times of real crisis, such as a recent or impending death, or during a serious illness,” said Welsh. “Visiting them either in the hospital or at home, and just being there as a support for them in whatever way they need – that’s probably my very, very favorite part of the entire 17 years.
“That said, I also have enjoyed the other aspects of parish nursing, where we get out into the community and meet the people in these high rises that are living on very low incomes, who need resources and support in a lot of ways, to make things work or make ends meet,” continued Welsh. “I loved being part of that. It’s a beautiful ministry.”
Saint Thomas Hospital offers the Foundations of Faith Community Nursing course twice a year, spring and fall. The next training will take place on April 8, 9, 22 and 23 at Saint Thomas West and is open to registered nurses throughout Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama.
Classes on each of the four days will be held from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and are limited to 20 participants. All materials and meals are included in the $150 class fee. Thirty-two CNEs (Nursing Continuing Education credits) are awarded for completing the course.
To register, visit www.sths.com. For more information, contact Mary Donnelly, Faith Community Nursing Liaison, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (615) 222-6603.