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A Spiritual Calling

Vol. 5 •Issue 21 • Page 13
In the Spotlight

A Spiritual Calling

Jersey shore nurse becomes a parish nurse coordinator to help spread the benefits of this specialty

A New Jersey hospital and a registered nurse have come together to begin a new program to help start or expand parish nurse programs in some 100 churches in Cape May County.

Bonnie Ballantine Kratzer, BSN, RN, a parish nurse at Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Stone Harbor (NJ) since 2000, has been named part-time parish nurse coordinator at Burdette Tomlin Memorial Hospital, Cape May Court House.

Her multifaceted role, part of the hospital's pastoral care department, will be to coordinate county-wide parish programs — 15 are now in existence — and to assist in the creation of others. She encourages RNs to volunteer their services in this capacity. Each current parish station has one to six nurses, and among Kratzer's duties will be the recruitment of new parish nurses.

"Although parish nursing goes back to the early days of religion, it did not surface prominently in the United States until the early 1980s in Chicago," said Kratzer. "It has been growing since and the nurses act as counselors, health educators, health advocates and referral sources."

She contended that the latest move of Burdette Tomlin is one of the first, if not the first, in South Jersey in which a hospital is providing education and health resources, as well as an individual's support, for community parish nurse programs.

Coming Together

Kratzer pointed out that several elements must come together for parish nursing to be successful. First, the pastor must be interested and cooperative. (She speaks glowingly of the support of the pastor of her Lutheran church.)

Then there must be support from the congregation, followed by an assessment of the needs of the congregation and by planning and implementation of programs. An advisory committee should be appointed, she emphasized, and it should consist of six to 10 people including a doctor, other health care professionals, pharmacists, social workers and educators.

Every parish has different needs, she said, and she recommended offering blood pressure screening as a good way to start a new facility. In no cases are body invasive procedures offered, such as injections or other medical procedures.

Spiritual Phase

A key part of parish nursing is the spiritual phase.

"The ministry of the word provides the compassion, advice and advocacy necessary for the total well-being of an individual," Kratzer said. "In everyday nursing we aren't able to do the spiritual side, but parish nursing is an integration of faith and health. You can put the two together."

Kratzer's background in nursing education has been a plus for her in her new role. In the 1970s she was a counselor for patient and community education at Hunterdon Medical Center in Flemington, NJ. She coordinated patient education and that, she said, "gave me great background for parish nursing."

Kratzer and her husband, Larry, whom she met in Washington state while he was in the Air Force, came across the country to Stone Harbor in 1999 and she took a part-time position in Burdette Tomlin's lifestyle department. In the summer of 2000 she began her role as parish nurse coordinator at her church.

When the word got around at the hospital that Kratzer was a parish nurse, the Rev. Joanne Drane, PhD, RN, who heads the hospital's pastoral care department and is pastor of the Central United Methodist Church in Linwood, NJ, became the catalyst for a movement to establish the hospital's first parish nursing program. She approached Kratzer to become a part-time nurse coordinator of the program.

Formative Years

Kratzer, a native of Havertown, PA, where she also attended high school, earned her RN at Bryn Mawr (PA) Hospital School of Nursing in a 3-year program.

"I always wanted to be a nurse," she said. "I always wanted to help other people."

After Bryn Mawr, she and some of her classmates decided to go west where she worked 4 days a week as a nurse at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle while studying for her bachelor's degree at the University of Washington. She returned east, taught nurses for a year at Bryn Mawr and then took a hiatus for about 8 years while she helped raise her son, Todd.

Kratzer's busy life has encompassed other activities too. Appropriately, she has taught a course, "How to Start a Parish Nurse Program" at Atlantic Cape Community College, and she leads the parish nurse committee, which focuses on education and networking, for Atlantic and Cape May counties. She sees in her new role an expansion of the hospital's commitment to become involved with the community.

"I hope to visit every church in the county and tell them the hospital is there to help them," she said. "And I hope other nurses will join me in this effort."

Jacob Schaad Jr. is a freelance writer from Lower Township, NJ.


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