Effort seeks to heal mind, body, spirit of members
LAFAYETTE — The business of healing doesn’t always happen in a doctor’s office or hospital.
For the past decade, churches across Lafayette have worked together with Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center to help keep their church members healthy through educational programs, health screenings and a healthy dose of compassionate listening and prayer.
Through its congregational health program, the hospital helps houses of worship create health ministry teams that coordinate health education and awareness events for their communities.
“The church is a place where people congregate and feel comfortable sharing what’s going on with them,” said Iris Malone, a nurse practitioner and coordinator of Lourdes’ congregational health program.“It’s been very successful to use church members to help church members because they best know about the church and how to meet the needs of their church. They know the dynamics, the culture, the people.”
The program, launched 13 years ago with two churches, has a roster of eight and is expected to grow as more churches learn about the program, Malone said.
Having churches involved in their members’ or neighborhoods’ well-being is a concept that has been around since the 1960s and is often described as parish nursing. The concept recognizes that maintaining good health and managing disease or illness takes a holistic approach: treating the mind, body and spirit.
With a focus on preventative care, the teams organize health fairs, screenings and seminars based on their congregations’ needs. Some outreach is focused on supporting church members through the management of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, through the use of educational programs. Health ministry team members also connect people to community resources.
Each team has three or four members, and most team leaders are retired nurses, though a background in health care isn’t required, Malone said.
“It’s a compassionate desire to be a servant and continue God’s ministry,” Malone said.
The hospital launched its congregational outreach in 2000, with programs at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church and Progressive Baptist Church.
Since then, six more churches have started health ministry teams: Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church, St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, Good Hope Baptist Church, Covenant United Methodist, Northwood United Methodist and True Vine Ministries.
Blood pressure screenings and vision screenings for children have brought unknown health issues to light, said Ashley White, health ministry team leader at Progressive Baptist.
“It’s a great program for some people who don’t get screened,” White said.
At Covenant United Methodist, the church targeted one of its major fall fundraisers — its pumpkin patch — as a way to reach out to the community. The church now has a huge health fair on the second Saturday of October during which it offers screenings, flu shots and health information.
The church has a health awareness mission “because we are supposed to be good stewards of what God gives us — and our bodies are one of those things,” said Debra Harrison, health ministry leader at Covenant United Methodist.
“I think it works in our congregation because we ask them what they’re interested in and we try to get information on those topics at a time and place that is convenient for them,” Harrison said.
The congregational health outreach extends beyond individual congregations. Lourdes’ Congregational Health program operates a medication assistance program housed in the St. Mary House across from Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church. The program is supported by several congregational health program partner churches and provides free medicine to eligible Acadiana residents.
Every three months, about $70,000 in medications are dispensed to those who can’t otherwise afford their medication, Malone said.
Five retired nurses volunteer at Mary House during the week. The free medication is available on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Without the assistance, said Flora Thomas, 58, a member of Progressive Baptist, she’s unsure how she’d fill her prescriptions.
“I’m disabled and don’t have any income,” she said.
One of the volunteer nurses is Angela Arceneaux, who worked 32 years in the public hospital system. Arceneaux provides general health screenings, checking blood pressure and blood sugar.
Arceneaux also spends a great deal of time listening and talking to those who walk through the door.
“I do spiritual counseling with the people I grew up with,” said the Immaculate Heart of Mary parishioner.
Arceneaux’s screening room is cozy, with room enough for a desk and two chairs.
“If they’re open, we do pray and discuss things,” Arceneaux said. “It helps bring them to a clear understanding about the role that spiritual turmoil plays in illness. If the spirit is disrupted, the body will be disrupted — eventually. It will catch up. The mind, body and spirit play a role in drawing the dots together.”