Reaching out to seniors during a pandemic

Patty Riefe
A plaque with a golden sneaker goes to the parish with the most steps during a walking challenge by parish nurses and health ministers each year. Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf won the challenge in 2020.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

Although the coronavirus pandemic has restricted parish nurses and health ministers from their usual services, they are coming up with creative ideas to reach out to seniors and others.

Over the summer, Patty Riefe, parish nurse at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish-Bettendorf and Sacred Heart Cathedral-Davenport, made socially distanced outside visits and limited in-home visits for people with urgent health needs. During one of those socially distanced visits, a parishioner shared rhubarb from his garden with Riefe. “He told me he would really like a rhubarb pie, but because of health issues his wife couldn’t bake. So, I made them a pie and set it on their deck keeping safe distance. It was a win-win for both of us and we both enjoyed rhubarb pie.”

Char McGovern, health advocate at Our Lady of Victory Parish-Davenport, said she and other health advocates and parish nurses in the parish have been calling parishioners they know are in the hospital. “Sometimes family notifies us, other times we are still getting information from the hospitals.” They have not been able to make hospital visits since mid-March. We are doing a couple of home visits, mostly to our homebound.… We have also done a couple of ‘window’ visits to parishioners with no family around.”


Parish nurse Carol Burns offers medical advice and support to most of the sick parishioners via the phone and/or cards when parishioners are not available by phone. “We still have volunteers that are calling our seniors,” McGovern said. “We are told from the Bible, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ Sometimes all we need to do is be still … listen and be present whether on a porch, over the phone or through a window.”

Porch visits got more difficult now with cooler weather. “We started Cozy Corner, which is a 4- to 5-minute informational parish nurse segment after our weekly Mass on a variety of subjects that are relevant now in the pandemic,” McGovern said. She and Burns share the duties. Segments air at the end of Sunday Mass, broadcast on COZI TV. The parish posts the talks on the OLV/JFK website and sends the link in a weekly email to parishioners. Topics so far have included dealing with stress and anxiety, helpful tips for living alone and coping with loneliness during the pandemic. “So now, we are researchers and public speakers along with our parish nurse duties,” McGovern said.

Katy Barrett, parish nurse at Holy Family Parish-Davenport, said because of COVID-19, “I am doing mostly telephonic check-ins on members and they call me if they have questions or need anything.” She has not been able to get into hospitals to check on parishioners because of the many visitor restrictions. She has been able to send virtual e-cards to some patients, she said.

For the holidays, she did a card ministry for parishioners who were not attending Mass due to COVID-19 risks. She also strives to get health information into the parish bulletin, and encourages parishioners to seek regular medical care and emergency care as needed.

“It has been a challenging time for everyone but our hearts also go out to our seniors who are homebound and can no longer get out as many of them were able to prior to COVID-19,” Riefe said. “I have volunteers (at both parishes) who help me reach out to our seniors with calls, cards and emails. Paulette Jones, who works in the (Lourdes) office, even sends jokes and riddles to the list she follows. The parishioners really love this as it really brightens their day. We all appreciate having something that makes us laugh, especially during this time.” She also sends birthday cards with a note to all of the seniors and offers a prayer for each card recipient.

“As parish nurses we are concerned with the body, mind and spirit of our parishioners. Through our calls we can listen to their needs or concerns, provide health guidance and support and even pray with them over the phone,” Riefe said. “This challenging time will pass and our mission is to help our parishioners realize they are still a vital member of our church community whether they worship in person or from their home.”


Nourish, a virtual caregiver support group, meets the third Thursday of the month from 1-2:30 p.m. “We have had several representatives attend our Nourish program from Lourdes (Bettendorf) and St. Alphonsus Parish-Mount Pleasant,” McGovern said.

A new Nourish group starts up the new year at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. “I have been in contact with a lot of families needing additional care for their loved one,” Riefe said. “I spend a lot of time helping families navigate through resources and options for care for their family members, whether it is to stay at home with care or finding a care facility that best suits their needs.”


Our Lady of Victory Parish resumed its GriefShare program in person, but participation is limited due to COVID-19 safety requirements, which also include masks, social distancing and no food or beverages. “It is much more difficult because we cannot offer any comfort to our parishioners, such as a hug or a pat on the back,” McGovern said. St. John Vianney Parish-Bettendorf also has a GriefShare program in which parishioners can seek support after the loss of a loved one, Riefe said.

For more information about Nourish or GriefShare through Our Lady of Victory, contact the parish at (563) 391-4245. An email and phone number are needed to join Nourish. GriefShare at St. John Vianney-Our Lady of Lourdes contact the St. John Vianney office at (563) 332-7910. Or for Nourish at St. Alphonsus-Mount Pleasant call (319) 385-8410.

Support The Catholic Messenger’s mission to inform, educate and inspire the faithful of the Diocese of Davenport – and beyond! Subscribe to the print and/or e-edition, or make a one-time donation, today!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted on