THE PARISH NURSE
"A sense of well-being can exist in the presence of disease, and healing can exist in the absence of cure."
By Mardi Ford
Observer Staff Writer
Robin Ostermann's smile is as easy as her handshake.
As La Grande's one and only parish nurse a statistic she hopes to change Ostermann seems to combine the ideal bedside manner of gentle strength married to genuine compassion.
"As a parish nurse," she says, "my goal is to provide care for the total body, mind and spirit."
She draws her philosophy of holistic nursing from a personal wellspring of spiritual faith.
Although the term holistic healing has been kidnapped by the new age movement, the concept of integrating body, mind and spirit for maximum well-being is grounded in the earliest days of the Judeo-Christian church.
Ostermann sees Jesus as the quintessential holistic healer treating body, mind and spirit throughout his ministry, setting the example for today's parish nursing program.
Ostermann says the rationale behind the Parish Nursing Ministry organization is found in Jesus' words from John 10:10:
"I have come that they may have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."
Today, Ostermann is working from her office in First Presbyterian Church.
"The church has been wonderful," she says, smiling. Her job description lists her primary duties as an integrator of faith and health, a health educator, a personal health counselor, a referral agent, a volunteer trainer, support group and class facilitator, and health advocate.
All this is tantamount to the personal responsibility of the parish nurse to maintain her, or his, own spiritual health through Bible study, prayer and meditation.
To be a parish nurse, Ostermann says, you must first be licensed to practice as a registered nurse in Oregon. Then you must go through the parish nurse course training. She says it is also important to be a good listener compassionate and caring.
"This is a healing ministry and takes commitment to the process. Above all," she says, "you should be willing to journey with people."
Ostermann wants to get the word out to others that parish nursing is a great way to serve God and the church using the healing gifts they have been given. She says the parish nursing ministry is an independent one service based upon need.
"It is designed to enhance the ministry of the church the healing and wholeness," she says, "but as a parish nurse, you're really out there on your own."
Each individual ministry has the flexibility to meet the needs of the church family it is designed around. The position may be a volunteer one or may be paid by church or through alternative funding.
Ostermann began the ministry at First Presbyterian about two years ago on a grant. The first thing she did was to find out what her church family wanted from her as a parish nurse.
"I put out a survey to see what was needed," she says. Based upon those survey results, she designed her ministry which, she says, is always evolving.
"Like anything else," Ostermann says, "it has changed as I've worked at it."
Once a month she writes an article in the church newsletter to keep people up to date on what she's doing, as well as including timely health information.
Although her primary duties are home visits, Ostermann says her parishioners don't have to wait for a home visit to ask her advice.
"Sometimes," she says, "they'll see me at church and ask me about medications or symptoms."
She provides informal teaching through clinics on blood pressure and nutrition, but has organized more formal training on subjects like osteoporosis or CPR for family and friends, bringing in expert medical people to conduct the clinics.
"Basically," Ostermann says, "I help people take charge of their own health. I empower them."
What parish nurses don't do, she says, is duplicate efforts of the traditional medical community.
"We don't provide hands-on nursing like giving shots or changing dressings." Ostermann says. "The scope of parish nursing is not that."
Ostermann's mission has recently expanded to include public relations. She hopes to get the word out about the parish nursing ministry to Union County.
Although there are several parish nurses in Halfway and one in Lostine, Ostermann says it is a ministry most people know little about.
"Parish nursing crosses denominations," she says, citing the involvement of parish nurses in Jewish synagogues, with an international scope. "In Swaziland (Africa) there is a huge AIDS epidemic, and the entire medical system has broken down," she says. "It is the parish nursing ministry that is providing the care."
Currently, Ostermann is organizing La Grande's first parish nurse training course, planned at Grande Ronde Hospital for the week of April 12-16.
"This is the first time a training has been held here," Ostermann says. "It's a great leap of faith."
But faith, she admits, is what it's all about.