This research report examines the role of faith-based organizations in the delivery of health care. Special emphasis is given to parish nurse programs and the unique relationship between parish nurses and faith members. Parish nurses attend not only to the physical needs of faith members, but also to needs associated with emotional and spiritual wellness. Parish nurses (N= 25) responded to questions about health ministries in faith-based organizations, their role as nurses, and the benefits of partnering with these organizations to promote health care. The nurses described the delivery of care through educational clinics, viewed themselves as promoters of health, and described the benefits of a holistic approach to health that includes emotional and spiritual dimensions. The discussion addresses themes that emerged from the results as well the ethical implications of incorporating health ministries into faith-based organizations. To build a foundation for health communication interest, the following research report examines the role of faith-based organizations in delivering health care and promotion, with a specific focus on parish nurse programs.
The research question broadly considered how parish nurses view their role and the benefits of partnering with faith-based organizations to meet faith members’ physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness. The nurses described their programs as part of formal committees with the goal of promoting health and wellness. Responses included reference to promotion strategies within the faith-based organization such as newsletters and educational clinics.
Interestingly it is observed that, faith members telephoned parish nurses at home for support, health advice, or emergencies. The nurses said that such accessibility was necessary because they were part of the faith community, lived in the neighborhood, and had trusting relationships with members. This suggests a different dimension to holistic care than has been emphasized in prior research. Although worship sites for health promotion activities have been touted as a strategy to increase access to health information and care, the accessibility of parish nurses makes evident that access has dimensions associated with availability beyond worship sites. In turn, this may be related to parishioners’ comfort levels in seeking both information and care from parish nurses.
Results indicate that the formal organizational strategies used by faith-based organizations to communicate about health issues to faith members led to important opportunities for parish nurses to minister directly to the physical, interpersonal, and spiritual needs of faith members, sometimes extending outside worship sites. Parish nurses provided support beyond what is typically available in traditional models of health care delivery, bridging the worlds of medicine and religion to link with people. Specifically, parish nurses prayed with faith members, found resources for them, spent time with them, were accessible to them, and played a strong, nurturing role for faith members. These types of social support were motivated by intrinsic values associated with the role of spirituality as critical to promoting holistic health.