Collaboration and innovation have given faith community nurses (FCNs) in rural northwest Washington an opening that is widening into opportunities to foster better healthcare access and to develop new FCNs.
Maple Falls, a small community in the Cascade foothills, is a collection of scattered households with diverse ethnicities and generally lower incomes. No medical facility is accessible within a half hour's drive. A county-performed community needs assessment that identified barriers to healthcare caught the attention of a local nurse who envisioned possibilities for outreach.
Joni Hensley, BSN, RN-BC, CIC, engaged the interest of FCNs and health ministers with the Health Ministries Network (HMN) based in Bellingham, WA. Joni and the group decided to “make a presence” and begin developing trust and providing some services. They conceived “Ask a Nurse” that functions twice a month in tandem with the area food bank. Coordination with the local Opportunity Council provided space, and several registered nurses (RNs) from the HMN volunteered to show up and staff the Ask a Nurse tables to establish community consistency and trust.
At each outreach, the nurses invite community members to get their blood pressure (BP) checked and ask health-related questions. One morning, a woman from the Philippines sat down to express an urgent need to get her medication refilled. Navigating the language hurdle, the FCN put aside the BP cuff and learned that the woman didn't have a healthcare provider in the state or money for an office visit. The two FCNs teamed up to find a solution and the woman left with a solid plan and a sense of relief.
Another community member dropped in for a BP check; he had visited the Ask a Nurse table previously and returned with questions about recent cardiovascular symptoms. He told the RN he was glad to have the nurses available because he couldn't regularly check his BP at the grocery store due to COVID restrictions. The client and the nurse discussed his symptoms and potential causes. After assessing his BP, the RN noted the reading on a card and suggested he keep a record to take to his doctor in the future.
The HMN's overarching aim with the Ask a Nurse outreach, said HMN Executive Director Sarah Lane, is to get to know community members and listen to their needs, answer questions and do preventive checks, connect people with good resources and health records, and strengthen and empower those in the community who want to help neighbors by becoming FCNs, health ministers, and community health advocates in the local school district.
“There are no FCNs in this area,” Hensley reported. “Part of our effort is to reach out to those who are involved in their congregations so we can offer support to those who might want to be trained as an FCN or health minister.” The HMN envisions sponsoring the Foundations in Faith Community Nursing course, offering scholarships as needed.
Keeping the Ask a Nurse outreach going is the current focus. Hensley secured a local grant that covers some staff time, gas reimbursement for volunteers, BP cuffs, printing of fliers, and a newsletter to area residents. Hensley also brings bus passes for residents who need healthcare access because transportation is another identified barrier in the community.
Hensley hopes in the short term to informally survey those coming to Ask a Nurse to discern more about the residents' needs. “If we have FCNs up here and they're well supported, if there's ever a healthcare clinic in this community, the clinic can network with the FCNs.”