Parish nurse tends shut-ins on 3 churches' lists

June 09, 1994|By TaNoah V. Sterling | TaNoah V. Sterling,Sun Staff Writer

Ann Shanley, a 79-year-old widow, hasn't been able to leave her home for more than a year. She cannot function without her cumbersome oxygen tank, and she has lots of fears about living -- and dying -- alone.

"I'm not afraid of dying, but I'm afraid of smelling. I don't want people saying I was here five or six days and I was smelling," she told Jackie Conrad, a nurse who came to visit Tuesday.

Ms. Conrad is a parish nurse, the sole employee of a program that began eight weeks ago at Harbor Hospital Center. The program is designed to provide better health care to communities that the nonreligious hospital serves.

She works amid the cobblestone streets and Formstone rowhouses of South Baltimore's Locust Point, where most residents are over 55. Some residents are immigrants who settled in Baltimore years ago; most have lived and worked there most of their lives.

Working with three local churches -- Our Lady of Good Counsel, Church of the Redemption and Christ United Church of Christ -- Ms. Conrad visits members on their sick and shut-in lists. She brings health surveys to community meetings so she can assess health needs. And she plans to develop educational programs, such as how to care for diabetics.

"We are trying to find a way to get the services to them or get them to the service," she said.

On Tuesday, Ms. Conrad tried to ease Mrs. Shanley's fears by telling her about paging devices worn around the waist or neck. Mrs. Shanley could use such a device to notify someone if she were injured or needed medical assistance, she said.

Ms. Conrad also described a small, lightweight oxygen tank that Mrs. Shanley could carry around, enabling her to leave the house again.

"When you're old and alone, everything bothers you. You feel sense of a loss of control over most issues in your life," Ms. Conrad said.

Her goal as a parish nurse is to provide holistic health care for her patients.

"The major premise behind parish nursing is looking at the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the person. We focus on wellness," she said.

Because Ms. Conrad visits people in their homes, she must gain the trust of Locust Point's residents. But she grew up nearby, so she's had few problems gaining that trust.

"I forgot how welcoming they are," she said. "Everything I've done has been well-received and appreciated. I've had members of the community call me and volunteer their services."

Sister Catherine Cress, S.N.D. of Our Lady of Good Counsel, who often visits sick church members to deliver communion, says the community needs the program.

"I've spent a lot of time trying to get people into nursing homes or trying to get them to go to the doctor," she said. "Some of them do not have a doctor. Some of them may not have been to a doctor in a while."

Listening to and talking with elderly patients such as Mrs. Shanley can help them emotionally, Ms. Conrad said. "I want them to be better partners in their relationships with their physicians."

Although in Locust Point the parish nurse program focuses heavily on the elderly, Ms. Conrad said, it can be modified for any community. And she plans to expand services in Locust Point, by developing programs that help prevent adolescent pregnancy.

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