- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 13, 2002

To see parish nurse Kathy McGregor in action is to understand what she means when she says there is a big difference between being cured and being healed.
"Not all people can be cured of disease, but all deserve a healing process," she says.
That process in many guises is the specialty of this full-time staffer at National City Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) at 5 Thomas Circle NW, an institution that says its mission is, in part, "to serve people in our neighborhood" and "minister to the special needs of individuals through programs to nurture people in discipleship."
Ms. McGregor's position is an unusual one. Because she does not work directly under a physician, she does not do invasive care. She helps heal; she doesn't cure. Parishioners who expect her to be available for routine health needs to change bandages or give insulin shots, for example are disappointed.
"The Bible speaks of taking care of its own in terms of healing and laying on of hands," she says. "We gave a lot of power to doctors, and [then] churches sort of backed out of healing and caring. Because I'm a parish nurse and church-based, faith and healing is woven into everything I do. I meet people where they are, which is precisely and exactly what Christ did.
"You don't walk around carrying a cross," she adds.
The church, which prides itself on its multicultural, multigenerational outreach, ministers to the community at large as well as to a 700-member congregation. So it was not surprising to find Ms. McGregor, on one of the hottest days of the summer, in an un-air-conditioned efficiency apartment near Thomas Circle, bathing the heavily swollen feet of an elderly woman in a wheelchair who is not an NCCC member. Otes Wright, 82, had been referred to Ms. McGregor by the nonprofit Emmaus Services for the Aging, which has its cramped offices in the NCCC parish house.
Ms. McGregor, a vivacious 50-year-old who is a professional storyteller as well as a registered nurse, asked several housekeeping questions.
"Who does your laundry? Emmaus is supposed to get you a housekeeping service. Is there a nurse's assistant coming to see you to do some dressing on your legs?" Ms. McGregor inquired, searching in her bag for latex gloves before emptying the wastebasket and changing the bed, all the while gently and teasingly chiding Miss Wright about her recent dismissal over the telephone of a home health care nurse. (Miss Wright later agreed to see the woman.)
"I know what I'm doing," Miss Wright had insisted proudly, saying defiantly, "if you don't stay independent, you lose what you have" but permitting Ms. McGregor back the next day to tend to her feet.
Ms. McGregor also arranged for Miss Wright to have a scale in her room so that she could monitor Miss Wright's weight and alert her doctor about any gain. "The more people watching her, the better," she says.
• • •
The visit, just one Ms. McGregor made in the neighborhood that day, is typical of her approach and of parish nursing in general. She is unusual, mainly in being fully salaried from the church and a grant from the D.C. Department of Health.
Silver Spring's Holy Cross Hospital like Maryland's Shady Grove Adventist Hospital and Virginia's Inova Fairfax Hospital employs a coordinator to advise parish nurses, who are organized into three networks locally. A coordinator mainly serves as mentor and offers technical support advice about developments in the health field through a network newsletter.
Carmella Shaw, the coordinator for Holy Cross, says that of 15 parish nurses in the District who have certificates from the American Nurses Association, about half are volunteers and nearly all the rest work part time. Other area churches with nurses include Christ Lutheran in Northwest, All Saints Episcopal in Chevy Chase, the Lutheran Church of St. Andrew in Silver Spring, McLean Bible Church in McLean and the Church of the Good Shepherd in Vienna.
The field is a relatively new branch of the nursing profession, having been codified by the American Nurses Association in 1998. Its origins, Ms. McGregor explains, go back to the 1980s and a Chicago minister named Granger Westburg, who promoted the concept a very broad one, to say the least emphasizing the importance of emotional and spiritual elements in people's well-being.
The job is process-driven because, in addition to bringing her own faith to bear on her activities, Ms. McGregor sees that people in her care especially low-income senior citizens who are at the mercy of confusing government regulations and commercial money scams take advantage of the social services legally available to them.
In just two months as HCCC's first full-time parish nurse, Ms. McGregor has started several free church-based workshops and programs. They include a health survey of church members, children's art classes, an exercise class for arthritics, and a program in which young people teach computer techniques to seniors.
Ms. McGregor also is a qualified "healing touch" practitioner. Back home in Memphis, Tenn., where she earned her degree as a registered nurse from the Baptist Memorial School of Nursing, she was a hospice nurse as well as a parish nurse for three inner-city churches.
"In hospice work, I developed a deeper understanding of the connection between faith and health," Ms. McGregor says in explaining the career switch.
Not being able to do invasive care, she says, means that "you learn how to sit on your hands. It's a trade-off. You end up being an unsung hero a number of times. As a hospice nurse, you can go to their house and take care of their pain. Advocacy work is a little different. As my own faith has developed and gotten stronger, I've learned it is not about me. Christ teaches us that. The three principles I follow are: Show up; pay attention; and tell the truth. And not be attached to results. It's all about letting go.
"I'm not a time-clock kind of person," she says, putting her motivation in more prosaic terms.
"She has many gifts, no doubt about it," says Monte Hillis, HCCC associate for outreach ministries. "Not all parish nurses come with gifts in the arts and the healing touch. A parish nurse offers more than taking blood pressure. It's a broad perspective on life. We think big around here."
• • •
Ms. McGregor's mission that day included a visit with Barbara Conway, 73, a frail woman who lives in a small, neat efficiency on R Street NW. She had been taken in by a dental insurance program to which she was paying $10 a month out of her total monthly income from Social Security of $545. Further, she had been getting letters from a collection agency for some hospital bills when she should not have been because she is covered under Medicare and Medicaid.
Knowing that Mrs. Conway needed to have some teeth removed, Ms. McGregor said free clinics were available for her.
The discovery of a new Web site, www.benefitscheckup.org, sponsored by the National Council on the Aging, led Ms. McGregor to Michael Knipmeyer, a lawyer with a George Washington University legal clinic program, who agreed to take over the task of sorting out the hospital charges. Mr. Knipmeyer appeared on schedule at Mrs. Conway's home in suit, tie and straw hat and got down to work at once contacting the agencies involved.
"If anyone calls you about a bill, have them call me," he told Mrs. Conway after making sure she could read the name on his card.
In the company of Emmaus' Mark Andersen, Ms. McGregor was less successful visiting 102-year-old Evangeline Jeffcoates, who lives alone in a ramshackle house among abandoned buildings in Shaw.
Knowing that a niece who looks after Mrs. Jeffcoates had gone on vacation, the pair were concerned about the effects of a recent fall Mrs. Jeffcoates had suffered. Disgruntled and confused after being awakened from a nap, Mrs. Jeffcoates took umbrage and threatened to call the police if Ms. McGregor didn't leave.
"Independence can save you, but it has another side," Mr. Andersen observed.
Earlier, in the apartment building near Thomas Circle, Ms. McGregor had checked up on Yvonne Melvin, 70, a throat-cancer patient who has no more than six months to live. The patient nevertheless had insisted on taking care of herself at home after a recent operation to insert a tracheal tube in her throat.
Church deaconesses had paid for installation of a TTY phone that she had trouble learning to use. Her voice gone, she "talked" with pad and pencil.
A thin, sprightly woman, Mrs. Melvin was upset over the brand of over-the-counter medicine she was taking to relieve pain caused by a swollen tongue. Ms. McGregor said she would buy another bottle for her.
None of Mrs. Melvin's physical difficulties impaired her smile, which brightened into a glow when Ms. McGregor slowly eased into questioning her about locating her sons in California and broached the idea of seeing them.
"Kathy is fixing to start scheming," Ms. McGregor said of herself in mock-conspiratorial tones. "You'd be willing to go for it? It's just you and me, babe."
"I love to fly," Mrs. Melvin wrote at once.
By the next day, Ms. McGregor had reached one of Mrs. Melvin's sons both apparently had been out of touch with their mother for some time and had located a foundation that might possibly underwrite the trip. One son was skeptical initially, asking her if a telephone reunion would do instead. Later he called Ms. McGregor to say the two brothers had talked and were considering the idea.
"I held my breath," Ms. McGregor says, repeating the conversation afterward. "Their hearts are breaking open a bit," she notes. "It's the answer to a prayer."
Additional information on the history and philosophy of the parish-nurse movement can be found at www.parishnurses.org and at www.midatlanticHMA.org. The latter is run by the MidAtlantic Chapter of the Health Ministries Association.

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