Nursing Physical, Spiritual and Emotional Needs Program Allows Practitioners to Take a Holistic Approach

By Murschel, Michael J. | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), February 28, 1999 | Go to article overview

Nursing Physical, Spiritual and Emotional Needs Program Allows Practitioners to Take a Holistic Approach


Murschel, Michael J., Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Michael J. Murschel Daily Herald Correspondent

This past week, the Rev. Granger Westberg passed away.

Unless you run in theological circles, you probably will not recognize his name, but his influence has been - and will continue to be - felt by literally thousands of people throughout the world.

Westberg, a clergyman with many years experience in medical schools and hospitals, left as his legacy the Parish Nurse Program, a practical means of delivering health care, education and prevention to people in "holistic" form.

Simply put, this holistic approach focuses on the entire person: their physical, emotional and spiritual components.

The Parish Nurse Program at Provena St. Joseph Hospital will celebrate its ninth anniversary in early March. What began locally in two Elgin-area churches now has blossomed into a program encompassing five churches throughout the service area of the hospital, including St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, Crystal Lake; Spirit of Joy Lutheran Church, Marengo; St. Patrick Catholic Church, St. Charles; St. Catherine of Siena, West Dundee; and Resurrection Catholic Church, Woodstock.

So effective has this program been that three other area churches are discussing the possibility of joining this ministry as well.

Each church setting is served by one parish nurse, and the program is administered from the hospital. The standards for parish nurses are endorsed by the American Nurses Association.

Carolyn Malm has been with the program since its beginning. The first parish nurse in the program, Malm served in that capacity for six years and now coordinates the program.

"There has been a gradual increase in the understanding of what a parish nurse does," she said. "A parish nurse isn't just a nurse in a church. Because of the spiritual connection, there is a much deeper connection with people."

The concept of holistic health care goes back to Westberg and his holistic clinics, said Ed Hunter, chaplain and director of pastoral care for Provena Saint Joseph Hospital.

"Granger began by establishing holistic health centers located in parish settings," he said. "He drew together a team formed of a physician, nurse, psychologist, social worker and clergy person."

However, the logistics of making it work were elusive. How would it be funded? Who would control it? Where would it be located?

Westberg rethought things and made an association that became a classic plan. He simply turned the equation around and, instead of placing the center in the parish, he deployed the caregiver, the parish nurse, to the site.

Westberg's proposal to Lutheran General was accepted in 1984, becoming the first institutionally based parish nurse program. Shortly after, Westberg's vision came alive when six churches signed on.

The program was ecumenical from the start, with participation from three Lutheran churches, two Roman Catholic parishes and a Methodist congregation.

As revolutionary as it sounds, what Westberg actually did was to bring the church and the parish setting full circle to its early roots. Hospitals as we know them today are very much the products of the early church, religious orders and monasteries.

"It appears as a new concept," said Leta Lucas, who served as a parish nurse for seven years. "But when you look at it, it is a very old tradition. It is healers. The ministry of Jesus in small communities, preaching, teaching, touching, praying, which are many of the things a parish nurse does."

Lucas now coordinates the Parish Health Partnership program, an adjunct to the Parish Nurse Program that fosters relationships between the hospital and congregations considering health ministry. …

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