Faith Community Nurse Project Bridges Mind, Body And Spirit

For the past three years, Sue Arens, RN, MA, has embarked on a new kind of nursing experience.

Instead of focusing on more traditional hands-on nursing care, such as dressing changes or blood pressure readings, Sue, a care management specialist and faith community nurse, has been seeking to soothe the soul.

“I find this a very rewarding type of nursing,” says Sue. “I am able to address physical, spiritual and emotional concerns without a timeline, but I still feel like I’m a part of their health care team.”

The Holistic Partners in Community Health program has made this type of interaction possible. The program started as a partnership between Fairview Partners, Fairview Community Health and Church Relations and Minnehaha Communion Lutheran Church in South Minneapolis.

Fairview Partners, a comprehensive and coordinated care program for seniors, acts much like a mini accountable care organization, meaning they are paid a specific amount to manage the total cost of care for members, and therefore, have the flexibility to try new and innovative care models to reduce costs – models such as the Holistic Partners in Community Health.

After the program’s first year, additional funding — for more nurses and regions — was made possible by the Fairview Greatest Needs Fund grant.

The overall aim of the program is to re-establish the connection between churches and local health systems as partners in community care. As opposed to hands-on care, the focus is on integrating mind, body and spirit to ultimately improve the health and lives of their clients.

“These visits have provided great comfort to clients who, in this stage of life, might be reflecting on losses they’ve experienced or are considering end-of-life care goals,” says Sarah Tellijohn, director of community case management for Fairview Partners. “The faith community nurse really bridges that relationship between faith and health and provides a service that, in most cases, enhances overall client wellness in a way we cannot.”

Mary, a client of Sue’s for almost three years, says she couldn’t agree more.

“(Sue) has brought me out of just sitting and knitting and watching television to talking and reading,” says Mary. “She has become a very dear friend, and I just can’t praise her enough. Her visits are like a Godsend because they brighten my whole week and they really make a difference.”

On a typical visit, Sue says she and her clients exchange pleasantries, share how the past week went and then she asks a leading question and listens. From there, the conversation is driven by the client: from talking through available community resources to processing grief to praying with them when requested.

“I am one of few people who come into their home without an agenda – no task, no time limit,” says Sue. “I take no notes during my visit and do not have access to their Fairview chart. This seems to reassure some of them, too.”

Despite not providing direct, traditional nursing care, the program has seen improved health outcomes for the clients involved. These range from anecdotal stories from clients – feeling happier and calmer during and after visits – to data that shows their efforts are making a difference in their wellbeing.

While the client pool is still small, over the past two years, 67 percent saw a decrease in total cost of care, including fewer emergency department and in-patient hospital stays.

Due to this success, the future of the program continues to look bright: adding more nurses, more serviceable zip codes, and ultimately, more clients.

“We are developing and testing a quality of life survey in 2016 to capture qualitative data about patient experience, and faith community nurses continue to provide stories from visits,” says Sarah. “Eventually, the team would love to see the program expanded system wide.”

And for Sue, she says she continues to see herself as a part of that future.

“I have a passion for senior care, and these visits give me a lot of fulfillment,” says Sue. “I believe we are successful in keeping some of these seniors safe in their homes, which is where they want to be.”

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