Parish nurses never stopped ministry during pandemic

Anne Marie Amacher
Parish nurses and health ministers from around the Diocese of Davenport gather in this 2017 file photo.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

Parish nurses and health ministers never stopped their ministry during the coronavirus pandemic. Although they could not do everything they did before the pandemic, they made adaptations and look forward to positive changes.

At St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf, the health ministry team changed its approach to assist parishioners. Deb Morse of the health ministry team said, “We continue to reach out to vulnerable parishioners and continue to encourage parishioners to contact us if they have concerns or questions.”

The parish offered its Grief Share support group in virtual format. Meetings consisted of two cycles of 13 weeks via Zoom. “We were able to meet outdoors the past two meetings in April this spring. This was welcomed and enjoyed by everyone,” Morse said. The team hosted its Caregiver support group via Zoom and recently met with the group outdoors for the monthly meeting. “This was a real blessing for everyone to be together in person.”


In general, the health ministry team has not been able to visit parishioners in their home or senior living centers. Most facilities are slowly opening, Morse said. Chris McCormick Pries, also of the health team, said parish nurses and health ministers began calling parishioners regularly during the pandemic. They continue to make calls to encourage vaccination and a return to church.

“We recognize there will be some permanent changes due to the pandemic,” Morse said. “As health care providers we do use universal precautions (cleanliness and sanitation) to protect those we visit. However, in light of what we have learned, we will review and update our procedures as necessary. Masks and social distancing are concepts that are here to stay.”

One of the most difficult challenges has been “overcoming the artificial nature of online offerings, as well as the challenges of technology for many of our less-experienced parishioners. In spite of wanting to engage in meetings or conversations, many parishioners have found it difficult to sustain online connection,” Morse said. “Our greatest joy is being able to engage with people face to face.”

Throughout the pandemic, the team has sent cards to the recently bereaved and those marking the first anniversary of a loss. In-person classes, A Matter of Balance and Tai Chi, were cancelled because of the virus; the instructor videotaped Tai Chi classes and made them available for participants.

Patty Riefe, parish nurse for Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf and Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, said she has started visits to homes and to healthcare facilities where allowed. “Nearly all my seniors are comfortable with visits. As we are vaccinated, I am trying to get back to normal. The most difficult thing was not being able to visit seniors and trying to keep everyone safe while accepting the fact that people have different beliefs about COVID and the vaccine. Some parishioners wanted the masks and vaccines and others did not.” Looking forward, Riefe hopes to resume offering blood pressure checks this summer. She continues to make phone calls and send cards to parishioners.

Jennifer Hildebrand, parish nurse at Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire, said the health ministry cabinet has been primarily sending cards, making phone calls and some visits. “Plus a few outdoor drive-by and parking lot birthday celebrations.” She has visited two parishioners throughout most of the pandemic with social distancing and a mask. However, hospital visits have not resumed due to restrictions. “Nothing is routine throughout this pandemic. Everything is constantly changing. I think the ability to use Zoom has been a silver lining,” she said.

A challenge has been “dealing with the fact that some people died alone, without any family at the bedside. That has been the absolute toughest thing to deal with for me personally. Nothing can take away the pain for the family.” The aftermath of COVID is just becoming apparent. “There is a lot of grief, resentment, anger, anxiety and depression because of the pandemic. We were created to be social beings and some of our parishioners have literally been locked up in their small apartment for over a year. Meals have been delivered to their rooms and they have not been able to leave. That breaks my heart.” Despite the frustration, Hildebrand looks forward to resuming one-on-one visits when possible.

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