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Parish Nurse: Linda Bockhold, Manhattan, N.Y.

Linda Bockhold boards subways and buses each morning to see clients at four New York City parishes. Her route stretches half the length of Manhattan -- from Midtown, north to Washington Heights -- and across town -- from the Upper West Side to East Harlem.

Each of the parishes presents a diverse population seeking health care, counseling and social services. They also comprise a rainbow of peoples -- Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans, African-Americans, Cubans, Haitians and a steady stream of new immigrants.

Bockhold provides screening for blood pressure, referrals to doctors and clinics and to support groups that deal with bereavement, domestic abuse, drug and alcohol problems. She also talks to clients about nutrition, mental health issues and legal aid and helps locate clothing for job interviews and toys for children.

Bockhold sees her role as coordinator of services, she told NCR during an interview at St. Cecilia’s Parish in East Harlem, where she works on Thursdays and Fridays. Outside her tiny office a half dozen people awaited a consultation. A mother and her young daughter sat next to a Jamaican man with a wide smile, loud voice and matted dreadlocks. Beside him slumped an inebriated man. Across the corridor two seniors waited.

Poverty and hunger are common to all her clients at St. Cecilia’s. On home visits she always looks into the refrigerator, often finding it empty, she said, even when there are children waiting to be fed.

A quarter of those who visit Bockhold at St. Cecilia are not parishioners, but rather members of the local community. Many more have shown up at all four parishes since Sept. 11. Jobless and suffering from depression, some also show signs of post-traumatic stress. Many who still have work, “exhibit fear and anxiety and really can’t seem to get into life again,” she said.

A divorced mother of two grown children, Bockhold lives in a studio apartment in Midtown. Her salary, paid for by the Alfred E. Smith Foundation, St. Clare’s Hospital and Health Center and Terrence Cardinal Cooke Health Center, is just enough to cover living expenses, she said.

Bockhold, 57, has been at the job since 1998. “It takes a lot of energy,” she said. “Sometimes you have to climb five stories on a home visit and you may not get lunch until 5 p.m. You need to be flexible; you can’t pre-plan your day. But it’s never boring.”

Bockhold, a Lutheran who often attends Sunday Mass and has been asked to lead morning prayers at St. Cecilia’s, sees her role as that of extending the healing ministry of Jesus. She gives her home telephone number to elderly persons who live alone and to the dying and their caregivers.

“They haven’t intruded on me,” she said. “I don’t see clients as patients, but as family. This is my flock. I have to care for my flock.”

-- Patricia Lefevere

National Catholic Reporter, June 7, 2002