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Parish Nurse: Kathleen Blanchfield, Orland Park, Ill.

St. Michael Catholic Church in Orland Park, Ill., already had 100 existing ministries when the parish hired Kathleen Blanchfield as a parish nurse in 1996. Blanchfield, a parishioner, had in fact served on the church’s ministry commission.

Because of the size of the large parish in suburban Chicago, home visits would be impossible for one person, and the church already had a well-established ministry of Communion visitors. Instead, Blanchfield has focused on group activities and partnering with other ministries.

The health ministry is bolstered by parish volunteers who serve on a Nursing Cabinet -- all registered nurses -- and a Health Cabinet of health professionals and local leaders.

Cabinet members “come from a real world perspective and suggest programs,” said Blanchfield. The health ministry has offered a wide variety of programs on health issues, including on the cost of prescription drugs; suicide; depression; and addictions. A health fair for adults offered screenings for blood pressure and body fat analysis, pharmacists to discuss prescriptions, as well as chair massages. The Children’s Health and Safety Fair provided immunizations while representatives from the fire department checked car safety seats. Events are attended by both parishioners and other community members.

A significant effort of the health ministry has been to provide support to caregivers of the elderly and ill. Blanchfield has received many phone calls from caregivers -- often wanting a volunteer to watch their loved one during work hours. “But that is not the reality of what can be done,” said Blanchfield. She established a Caregiver Resource Group to bring together people facing the same problems to share ways to cope.

It’s not a support group, Blanchfield emphasized, in which members are expected to commit to being there every month. “Caregivers are so overwhelmed and so tired, that to put one more expectation on them -- it’s too much,” she said. So people come when they can, between four to eight people at a meeting, and share information.

Tina Donahue, a registered nurse and member of the Health Cabinet, told NCR that she was proud of her parish for providing the health ministry. “I know that our health care system has become worse in the last 15 years,” she said. “It’s worse for health care workers, especially nurses, to try to do their job, and more important than that, it’s worse for patients trying to get access at the right price. There are more out-of-pocket expenses for health care, and the number of uninsured is growing continuously.

“What we’re doing here is making a very small effort to provide information, access and resources that people need to stay healthy or to get healthy.”

-- Teresa Malcolm

National Catholic Reporter, June 7, 2002