Mary Barni, Pete and Yvonne Yray and Mary Cooksey stretch during an American Arthritis Association “Walk with Ease” class. The class is geared toward helping people with difficulty walking and teaches them how safely to make physical activity part of their everyday life. (Courtesy Donna Barton)
Mary Barni, Pete and Yvonne Yray and Mary Cooksey stretch during an American Arthritis Association “Walk with Ease” class. The class is geared toward helping people with difficulty walking and teaches them how safely to make physical activity part of their everyday life. (Courtesy Donna Barton)
LAKE OSWEGO — When one thinks about parish nursing, it’s common to focus on blood pressure checks. But the ministry isn’t limited to that. Donna Barton and the health ministry at Our Lady of the Lake Parish are proof.

Barton is a nurse who volunteers in a faith community working to better the health of its members. She’s worked in many areas of nursing — recovery room, intensive-care unit, critical care unit, gynecology, insurance — and has taught in the field. But the 69-year-old hung up her stethoscope in retirement. That is, until 2013, when she and another nurse from Our Lady of the Lake decided to pursue a certificate in parish health ministry. And so the parish program was born.

“I went into parish health because I thought it was such a wonderful idea — that idea that our body, our mind and our soul are actually one and that’s what forms us,” says Barton.

“We can bring people to know that their body is a gift from God and that we need to honor that and treat our body with respect and keep it healthy and know how to keep it healthy.”

Barton and the rest of the nurses at the parish are not practicing hands-on nursing. Rather, most of what the team does is health educating.

They’re health counselors to individuals at the parish. They coordinate volunteers. They act as advocates.

The resources that the team brings into the parish — hearing tests, flu shot clinics — are all outsourced from other companies including the Department of Veteran Affairs and RiteAid.

The ministry soon is starting a program that will bring health care professionals from the parish community to speak monthly on various topics like weight management, exercise and living with diabetes.

“We’re just another cog in the wheel as far as helping people stay healthy,” Barton says.

A number of nurses from Our Lady of the Lake collaborated with a group of nurses from nearby Resurrection Parish in Tualatin to train volunteers in sitting with ailing parishioners. Barton’s team has 24 volunteers who can go and sit with homebound members of the parish, giving their caregivers a brief break.

Faith community health programs often focus on older people, specifically those isolated from their communities, says Julie Trocchio, senior director of the Catholic Health Association in Washington, D.C.

“The parish nurse or the parish volunteer really brings the congregation to the person. It makes them feel like they’re still part of the community. ... It really is a tangible sign of God’s love.”

When a parishioner or family member of a parishioner at Our Lady of the Lake dies, the health ministry team writes notes to the family every three months for the first year. Writing notes, Barton adds, is not something a person needs medical training to do. Anyone could take on this compassionate caring project.

Barton finds her work with the ministry gratifying. She sees the need in the community.

“It’s really a godsend,” she says.

The nurses at the parish often end up sitting with parishioners facing health problems, talking them through the situation and giving them resources.

Nursing brings specific skills, says Trocchio.

“Being able to address the whole person — that brings a dimension that I don’t think any other professional brings,” she adds.

Barton says the opportunity to use her education to help people is one way to practice her faith in the Lord. She encourages others who feel called to do the same. Certificates in parish health can be acquired even if parishioners don’t have health care backgrounds.

“We all would like to be Christ-like in helping people and [parish health] would be a great way to do that.”

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