Taking Pressure at General Conference
By Linda Unger
Tampa, Florida, April 27, 2012--A total of 35 parish nurses from the Tampa area are taking the pressure off hundreds of delegates, observers, and staff attending the 2012 General Conference of The United Methodist Church here. They can be found in the exhibit hall in daily groups of three or four, busily screening for high blood pressure, tracking participants’ progress, and sending serious cases—13 so far—for further testing.
Nigeria Conference delegate Solomon Olusiyi, the owner of a gas station, said he is accustomed to taking his blood pressure every day. “Before, I neglected it,” even after his doctor’s explicit instructions, he said Friday at the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits booth, where the screening is done.
“Friends told me it is very important to check it,” he continued. “It can kill more than any other sickness. Now I have cultivated the culture to check it.”
When Olusiyi first came to the blood-pressure screening booth, his reading was a little high, said Sharon Hinton, a parish nurse and advisor to the recently formed United Methodist Church Health Ministry Network. By Friday, he was managing his pressure and tracking it on a card Hinton gave him.
Delegates and other travelers to General Conference face particular challenges when it comes to keeping their pressure under control. Those who cross multiple time zones to get here may find themselves off schedule and forget to take prescribed blood-pressure medicine.
Others don’t drink enough water and become dehydrated. And then there’s jet lag plus the dynamic of late meetings or conversations, resulting in little sleep. “I can tell by a person’s face if there’s a problem,” Hinton said. “I’ll ask, ‘Did you rest last night? Do you have a headache?’”
In the first three days of General Conference, ten parish nurses had already screened 372 participants for high blood pressure, encouraging each one to return to the booth daily to repeat the readings. “One blood pressure reading doesn’t mean anything,” Hinton said. “Being able to see the trend—that’s important.”
Tracking the information on cards allows the nurses to detect a serious problem or one that simply needs watching. “The tracking card provides valuable information that the person can bring back to their doctor,” Hinton said, and thus permit a more precise evaluation of the person’s health.
Faith Community Nurses
Parish nurses, or, as they are also known, faith community nurses, are an important part of the UMC Health Ministry and are supported both by the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits and the United Methodist Committee on Relief. They also are part of an international, interfaith network of health ministry workers.
The United Methodist Church’s Health Ministry Network includes at least 850 parish nurses—registered nurses with current licenses, even when many take on this ministry after retirement. All but two of the 850 are located in the United States. The others are in Canada and Saudi Arabia, Hinton said.
“Parish/faith community nurses provide intentional care of the spirit along with expert nursing knowledge to promote ‘wholistic’ health and prevent or minimize illness,” according to the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits UMC Health Ministry[LU1] website.
“Parish/faith community nurses work with individuals, groups, congregations, and communities” to provide customized care, it indicates. Parish/faith community nurses offer an astonishing array of services depending on need.
Barbara Bardon, one of the parish nurses at General Conference, said she provides blood-pressure screening at her local church and ministry center in Plant City, Florida. She also offers a prayer shawl ministry, food resources, Get Into Fitness Today (GIFT) classes, health assessments, health classes, and one-on-one counseling.
“It’s very interesting having a boss who is 24/7,” she said, looking heavenward in between blood-pressure screenings.
Linda Unger is staff editor and senior writer for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.