Faith Community Nurses Connect Mind, Body and Spirit

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

Instead of focusing on traditional hands-on nursing care like dressing changes or blood pressure readings, Sue has been seeking to soothe the soul.

Sue is a care management specialist and faith community nurse working with Fairview Partners and Minnehaha Communion Lutheran Church in South Minneapolis.

“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.”

Sue’s work is part of a program that seeks to strengthen the connection between churches and local health systems as partners in community care for seniors. 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 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 together 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 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 well-being.

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.

With the support of donors to Fairview Foundation, the program recently expanded to add more nurses, more serviceable zip codes, and ultimately, more clients.

“We are developing and testing a quality of life survey to capture qualitative data about patient experience, and faith community nurses continue to provide stories from visits,” says Sarah.

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.”

Fairview Partners has been providing care to seniors since 1996 and was one of only 10 programs in the nation to receive a prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant for innovative health system reform. Learn more about the services offered by Fairview Partners.

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