While doctors and nurses focus on one's physical well-being, many say that emotional and spiritual health are important as well.
That is where the local "parish nurse" program comes in.
Sponsored by Lodi Memorial Hospital in conjunction with seven local churches, the parish nurse program involves registered nurses in Lodi who help their church congregation - ranging from taking blood pressure readings after services on Sundays to conducting educational workshops on how to prevent illness.
"I love it. I love it. I just love it," parish nurse Debra Haas said, bubbling with enthusiasm. "When you're not paid, you're not told you have to do it this way or that way."
Each church operates the parish nurse program differently, said Carol Farron, the hospital's community development director. It depends on what the congregation wants.
The program supplements the typical medical duties performed by doctors and nurses in their offices and at Lodi Memorial. Parish nurses can spend more time with seniors, for example, who are homebound and sometimes lonely.
"It restores the one-on-one relationship," said Marilyn Maki, a parish nurse volunteer at St. Paul Lutheran Church who oversees the Lodi program. "We have time to sit and hear their story."
Participating churchesChurches participating in the parish nursing program through Lodi Memorial Hospital:
- St. Peter Lutheran Church
- First United Methodist Church of Lodi
- St. Paul Lutheran Church
- Century Assembly
- Calvary Bible Church
- St. Anne's Catholic Church
- Rio Vista Baptist Church
- Fairmont Seventh-day Adventist Church, which participated in
the program from 1998 to 2000, plans to enroll again this year.
Any church interested in being a part of the parish nurse program may call Lodi Memorial Hospital at 334-3411 and ask for the Community Development Department.
Source: Lodi Memorial Hospital
Loneliness is one of the biggest causes of death, Farron added.
Betty Kayl, who had a stroke when she was 47 and lives at Arbor Place Residential Care on Louie Avenue, says she has no one to talk to. So she enjoys Haas' visits.
"I like her a lot," Kayl said during Haas' visit on Thursday. "The more she comes, the more I like it. She can come anytime she wants."
St. Peter Lutheran is one of the most active Lodi churches in the program, with eight to 10 parish nurses participating. Some parish nurse activities include:
- Workshops on such topics as men's health, women's health, mental health, diabetes and attention deficit disorder.
- An exercise program.
- Members of the congregation bring their medication to church on Sunday and have a pharmacist check them to make sure they're still good to use. Century Assembly's parish board decided to acquire a defibrillator and offer training in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, Maki said.
And parish nurses often counsel people grieving the loss of a loved one.
"They are such an extraordinary resource," Farron said.
Once in a while, parish nurses go for the off-beat.
"Interestingly enough, people (at St. Paul) wanted something on humor," Maki said.
So St. Paul had an old-fashioned ice cream social last fall and brought in a comedian. Maki brought some "I Love Lucy" DVDs, and they told some "Ole, Lena and Sven" jokes from Scandinavia. Others brought their silliness to church for that one night as well.
"People saw another side of their pastor," Maki said.
At St. Peter, parish nurse Colleen Rempfer recently showed up to church as "Nurse Hilde" in a parody of the nursing profession.
"Colleen is a very quiet and reserved person," said Laverne Schmidt, who oversees the program at St. Peter and is Haas' mother. "But when she becomes a clown, her persona transposes."
The parish nurse program began on a national level in 1984 in Chicago and started in Lodi in 1996.
Lodi Memorial invests $15,560 in the program for each participating church. The hospital spends $1,000 to train each parish nurse and pays a portion of the parish nurse's salary for the next three years - 100 percent the first year, 50 percent the second year and 25 percent the third year.
After three years, the church must either pick up the cost, have the parish nurses volunteer their time or drop the program altogether. Some churches started the program a few years ago and later dropped it when hospital funding dried up. They include Fairmont, Emanuel Lutheran, Temple Baptist and Herald Baptist churches. Fairmont is looking to reinstate parish nurses after an eight-year hiatus.
Haas is a parish nurse at St. Peter Lutheran church. She has been a registered nurse for 32 years, specializing in diabetes, at Stockton's Dameron Hospital.
"We found diabetics in our church who didn't know they were diabetic," Haas said.
On Thursday, she helped Kayl navigate the confusing insurance world to get new glasses and dentures.
"I don't have any (family or friends) to ask," Kayl explained.
"You see how God works?" Haas grinned.
Not all pastors are terribly excited about having a parish nurse program at their church for a number of reasons, Maki said. Some say it isn't the church's role to provide these services, while others say it's the pastor's role to visit the homebound, for example.
"I've had some pastors ask if this is that new-age stuff," Maki said.