Parish nurses donate time to those in need

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 12, 2006

By Joanie Morris

Kannapolis Citizen

CONCORD — Parish nurses and parish nurse volunteers at NorthEast Medical Center are earning extra credit for heaven every day around the region.

Now they’ve been recognized by the governor.

Gov. Mike Easley recently recognized the parish nurse volunteers at NorthEast Medical Center with the North Carolina Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service. In a letter to the volunteers, he said:

“You have joined a distinguished group of more than 15,500 volunteers in North Carolina who have received this honor since 1979.

“Volunteers are at the heart of the long-standing tradition of community service in our state. Your work enriches and improves the lives of others every day, in countless ways. You serve as positive role models that make a difference in the lives of others.”

The North Carolina Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service has been given to volunteers throughout the state for 28 years.

Pam Hurley, parish nurse coordinator at NorthEast, said the parish nurse volunteers were the only ones in Cabarrus and Mecklenburg counties recognized for their service.

“A parish nurse volunteer is just volunteering their time,” Hurley said. “They don’t get paid in any way for the time they commit to their congregation.”

The parish nursing program was started at NorthEast in October 1997. According to a release from NorthEast, the program grew out of a need for more community outreach toward the prevention of illness in the area.

The program is a ministry between the hospital and area churches. The ministry is based on the belief that health is holistic, and that bodies, minds and spirits need to be in harmony in order to be well or whole.

Parish nurses hold the spiritual dimension to be central to the practice.

In this area, there are 36 churches with parish nurses. Of the 43 parish nurses, only seven of them are paid positions — either through grants or participation with the churches. The nurses are a combination of retired nurses and employees of NorthEast and other hospitals in the area hoping to earn their wings.

Last year, the 36 volunteers put in 5,200 hours. Parish nurses do everything from holding blood pressure clinics at the churches and hosting health talks to health fairs and blood drives.

For Jearldean “Sis” Mills, who is parish nurse for Epworth United Methodist Church in Concord, the role is one she values and gives her great spiritual rewards.

“In the role of parish nurse, I promised (Epworth officials) about 20 hours a week,” Mills said. She’s got an office set up at the church where she can check blood pressure, glucose and talk with parishioners about illnesses.

“I do a lot of health counseling. We do a lot of outreach.”

Mills has been a member of the church since 1964 and she said it helps because “folks know me and they trust me.”

To become a parish nurse, Mills had to complete 40 hours at the Parish Nurse Institute. Those 20 hours she puts in a week are “pretty erratic” and based on when events and activities are going on at the church.

She holds a health clinic on Sundays between services when members can have their blood pressure and glucose checked. In addition, she opens the office when people will be at the church.

“When nobody’s there, I’m not necessarily there,” Mills said. In addition, she visits ill parishioners in the hospital and hosts special classes on healthy living.

She gets all sorts of questions from the parishioners at Epworth United Methodist Church.

“They like to talk about what’s wrong with them,” said Mills. “Sometimes they tell me they might have something wrong with their gall bladder and ask me, ‘Where in the world is the gall bladder?’

“These people trust me,” Mills said. “They have the freedom to express themselves to me.”

Churches in the area that participate in the parish nurse program include Covenant Presbyterian, Independence Hill Baptist, Mount Calvary Holy Church, Family Worship Center, First Baptist of Kannapolis, Charity Baptist, Concordia Lutheran, First United Methodist, West A Street Church of God, Mount Hermon Lutheran, Harmony United Methodist, Kerr Memorial Baptist, Kirkwood Presbyterian, Marable AME Zion, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, West A Tabernacle, Forest Hill United Methodist, Gilmore Chapel AME Zion, Bethel Baptist, First Reformed Church, Unity United Methodist, New Life Church of Jesus Christ, Mount Calvary Lutheran, Landis Baptist, North Kannapolis Wesleyan, Prince of Peace Free Will Baptist, Jackson Park United Methodist, Centerview Baptist, Christ Community Church, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, St. James Lutheran, Epworth United Methodist, Memorial United Methodist, Macedonia Baptist of Concord, Richfield Baptist, Mount Moriah Lutheran, Glorietta Baptist, Central United Methodist, Kimball Lutheran, Highland Baptist, Grace Lutheran, First Missionary Baptist, Mount Olive Christian, Westford United Methodist, Poplar Grove Baptist, New Life Independent Baptist and Calvary Lutheran.

Contact Joanie Morris at 704-932-3336 or