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Islanders part of a trend in faith-based nursing

By Staff | Jun 3, 2015

Carol Gross (left), Wendy Warner and Frankette Rinaldi are parish nurses in Sanibel. Gross is retiring this year with more than 40 years in her field. CRAIG GARRETT

By CRAIG GARRETT

cgarrett@breezenewspapers.com

The priest or pastor can’t do it alone. So they call upon the parish nurse to offer comfort to those who are ill or dying, or need help with followup care or wish for spiritual support.

Sanibel has four such parish nurses. The field is growing rapidly, connecting parishioners with health experts whose duties are some times beyond traditional nursing, said Wendy Warner, parish nurse at the St. Michael & All Angels Church in Sanibel. There are parish nurses at the St. Isabel Church, Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ and Sanibel Community Church. Although summer limits availability for most parish nurses, they’re still on call. Warner is the only year-round parish nurse in the islands. There are 12,000 or so register parish nurses in the country, some 27 in Lee County.

To the outsider, a parish nurse’s job seems broad. They can one day spend long hours in homes and hospital rooms. The next day, he or she may act as bridge between a doctor or medical provider as a health advisor with followup care plans or rehab guidance, a patient/family advocate, a referral service, a liaison to faith and community resources, a teacher and spiritual healer.

Their job may simply require sitting with a terminal patient and/or their family, offering comfort, representing the church and its family.

Carol Gross, parish nurse with the Congregational United Church who retires in June after serving seven years, said prayer is part of the work.

Patients and family “know who we are,” she said, “and that really matters.”

Frankette Rinaldi with St. Isabel said parish nurses must obtain an undergraduate degree and be a registered nurse, and must be state licensed in order to work in the field. Many have years in secular nursing, move to parish nursing as their careers begin to wind down. The parish nurses in Sanibel, for instance, have well over 100 years in combined time in their trade. And each contributes to a church publication to further educate on their duties and availability.

Those seeking assistance from a parish nurse often want a direct link to the church’s spiritual leader, said Rinaldi, who like most parish nurses in places like Sanibel, works October through May. She is available by cell or social media, however, she said.

“Our parishioners really want to see a (parish nurse) who works with the priest,” she said.

Added Gross: “I’ve never had a position as rewarding. It was wonderful.”

Details on parish nursing are at parishnurses.org.