Letter to the Editor by Emily Schroepfer to the topic Health Care and the Aging Population: What are Today's Challenges?

Health Care and the Aging Population: What are Today's Challenges?

Response by Emily Schroepfer to the topic Health Care and the Aging Population: What are Today's Challenges?

Dear Editor:

This letter is in response to the OJIN topic Health Care and the Aging Population. Due to the impending growth in the number of aging baby boomers requiring health and medical services, the parish nurse can be an important advocate in identifying and coordinating services for older individuals. Communities benefit when they implement a parish nursing program since a parish nurse can act as a case finder and identify congregant members’ medical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs, which in turn provides seamless care to aging baby boomers.

In addition to providing coordination of medical services, parish nurses offer a broader dimension of concern which includes spiritual sustenance as well as physical and emotional support and care (Matteson, Reilly & Moseley, 2000). Along with the congregation, parish nurses can provide a continuum of assistance including supportive listening (Dyess & Chase, 2010). This ministry identifies those with needs and provides a wide variety of support connecting congregants with services from non-profit organizations (Morris & Miller, 2014).  However, the parish nurse does not replace other medical care such as physical therapy, wound care, or IV therapy, but rather coordinates resources that support the patient.

Often the parish nurse makes the initial contact with the elderly patient through referrals, home visits, screenings, at food pantries, or through classes. Because the parish nurse sees these individuals regularly in the community setting, he or she can identify needs early in the aging and disease processes. For example, a nurse who notices an individual who is unsteady on his or her feet may review medications; assess nutrition and hydration status; facilitate connection with a primary care provider; encourage the person to join a church based exercise program; or recommend an assistive device to prevent falls. As the nurse builds a rapport with the individual, he or she can have a powerful role in connecting the elderly client to other services in the community which can facilitate and enable the elderly person to continue to live at home. Because paid home healthcare services can be expensive, parish nurses, with their supportive congregant network of volunteers, can often provide a safe alternative by which low income seniors can survive and thrive in their homes. Congregant members can organize to provide meals, transportation for appointments and treatments, as well as carpooling to activities at the parish.  Furthermore, efforts of parish volunteers often evolve into outreach to the general community as part of their ministry to provide comfort and care.

When nurses partner with community health services, including non-profit organizations, volunteer networks, and government agencies, seniors receive seamless and efficient care for medical needs, transportation, socialization, education, and spiritual support (King & Pappas-Rogich, 2011). Although parish nursing programs will not meet the needs of all individuals in local communities, parish nurses can provide support for many of those members. This network of support organized by a parish nurse can greatly improve the quality of life for elderly patients and enable them to live independently in familiar surroundings, exactly where they want to be, in their own home.

Emily Schroepfer


Dyess, S., & Chase, S. K. (2010). Caring for adults living with a chronic illness through communities of faith. International Journal for Human Caring, 14(4), 38-44.

King, M. A., & Pappas-Rogich, M. (2011). Faith community nurses: Implementing Healthy People standards to promote the health of elderly clients. Geriatric Nursing, 32(6), 459-464. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gerinurse.2011.09.007.

Matteson, M. A., Reilly, M., & Moseley, M. (2000). Needs assessment of homebound elders in a parish church: Implications for parish nursing. Geriatric Nursing, 21(3), 144-147.

Morris, G. S., & Miller, S. M. (2014). Collaboration in the gap: A new day for faith community nursing. Journal of Christian Nursing, 31(2), 112-116. doi: 10.1097/CNJ.0000000000000064.