Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 19, 1999
Parish nurse builds community
CWL to discuss outreach program to homebound parishioners
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Vivian Knisley is the link to the outside world for the home-bound parishioners of St. Anthony's Church.
She connects them to the community.
She connects them with the medical needs they require.
She connects them with the companionship they lack.
As a parish nurse, Knisley brings more than just her medical expertise to the ill. She brings the word of God.
"When someone is ill, you need to heal the body, mind and soul," Knisley said. "Sometimes it's not good enough just to go in and give someone medical care. I feel a lot of illness that we know of has a spiritual basis to it."
The 38-year nursing veteran is the sole parish nurse in the Edmonton Archdiocese. She said a dozen local parish nurses are employed by other denominations.
"With ToPs (Transformation of Parishes), there has been so much to look at that (parish nursing) has not been a priority," Knisley said. "But I think down the road, soon, it's something that should be considered by the parishes."
That road is a stone's throw away for members of the Edmonton Archdiocese's Catholic Women's League of Canada. When members gather in Three Hills April 23 for the CWL's convention, a resolution supporting the need for parish nurses will be introduced.
"The purpose (of the resolution) is to encourage the different parishes to explore parish nursing," said Helen Russell, a member of St. Mary's CWL in Red Deer. "We want to stimulate this idea. We're not forcing everyone to hire a parish nurse, we're saying this is a great idea for your parish."
Parish nurses play the dual role of medical professional and spiritual minister to people who face illness. Knisley is a part-time employee of St. Anthony's, but will visit anyone who requests her services.
"I have been asked by people of other denominations or churches to visit them and I will," Knisley said. "They don't have to be a parishioner of this church.
"We have to learn the importance of a faith. It doesn't matter which church you're from. I come from a United Church background, I'm a convert. I realize there is no fence in our belief."
Two years ago, Knisley sought a calmer work environment after she became weary of the hubbub in her daily routine as an operating room nurse.
"It was a high stress area," she said.
She is a graduate of the six-week parish nursing course offered by the University of Alberta's faculty of nursing. This can be supplemented with an eight-month practicum.
The three-year-old course, aimed at experienced registered nurses, was established as part of a way for churches and the community to meet the challenges proposed by government to find more cost-effective methods of health care.
"When you're at a hospital, there's so much to do, you don't have time to sit down with (the patients)," Knisley said. "They need this kind of communication, not just the technical side of it.
"I can also bring Communion to people who can't come to church, for people who are shut in. This is really important for people. (Communion) is so important to people, it really makes a difference in their spirits when I can bring that to them."
Parish nursing has a long history in Europe, Australia and New Zealand and has grown continually in North America. But it isn't a requisite for everyone.
"It isn't the thing for every parish," Russell said. "It's good where the number of volunteers is very low, where the participation is very low. Priests can offer the spiritual side, but they're not qualified to answer medical questions.
"It's very good for the big churches, where there's only one priest. It's ridiculous! How can one person look after that many people?"
The brick wall that prevents the surge of more parish nurses is lack of funds. Russell said the top end of the pay rate for a registered nurse is $25 an hour. But the cost is "a manageable sum.
"They're not full-time positions," Russell said. "They come in one or two days a week at the most. If they want a parish nurse, I think churches just have to be creative in getting the money."
If funds are an issue, Knisley said interested churches can forgo the salary if they want a registered nurse in their parish. There's no catch, no strings attached, no fine print.
"I don't think churches realize they can have an intern work for free for a year," she said. "They can go through the university and have an RN work at their parish for free."