Three synagogues in Springfield are hoping to expand the reach of a health care service than has been operating in their town’s Jewish community for 15 years.
The Congregational Nursing Program serves members and families of Temple Sha’arey Shalom, Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael, and Temple Israel.
Two registered nurses — Jaclyn Herzlinger of Sha’arey Shalom and Andrea Cook of Beth Ahm Yisrael — have been ministering to the needs of some 2,000 community members. They offer blood pressure screenings, medication assistance, doctor referrals, home safety checks, and counseling for worried relatives of ill loved ones.
All services are free of charge, subsidized by private donors with some aid from the synagogues.
In seeking the program’s expansion, administrators want to include “Hadassah or the Jewish War Veterans or anyone else in the town’s Jewish community,” said Jana Deneroff, a publicist at Sha’arey Shalom, in a phone interview. “We are trying to get the word out. We think it is a great program and can be a role model for other faith communities in the country.”
The program, Deneroff said, is modeled on a church concept called Parish Nursing, which began 20 years ago at a church in Chicago. Similar programs, now including 10,000 nurses, serve upward of 20,000 Christians, Jews, and Muslims throughout the United States.
In 1999, JCC MetroWest launched a similar program called Project SHIN (Spiritual Healing Integrating Nursing) with funding from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey.
Herzlinger decided to replicate the Parish Nursing program for the Jews of Springfield after she attended one of its meetings in a Lutheran church in 1993.
With aid from the Union for Reform Judaism and grant-writing assistance from the Healthcare Foundation, she proceeded on the assumption than when funders “receive an application from Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox congregations, they are going to look at it pretty hard.”
The program has been independent of foundation grants since its third year, supported almost entirely by the three congregations and the occasional private donation.
In addition to her work with temple members, Herzlinger serves in hospices and hospitals as an oncology nurse. She said, “Preventive medicine is what nursing is all about.”
Most of the Congregational Nursing Program’s clients come to them through blood pressure screenings.
“We keep their records so that we have long-standing records of people. We establish trust that way, and when they have problems, they call us,” said Herzlinger. “And yes, we go above and beyond a lot.”
During the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, the demands on the two nurses were many. During and after the late-October, 2012, storm, said Herzlinger, “we were knocking on doors if we couldn’t reach people. We didn’t know if someone needed food delivered or maybe they needed medical attention. Some didn’t have phones. It was a logical thing.”
“If we know of people who live alone or are at risk and we can’t reach them, we are going to find out if they are in trouble,” she said. “We have to watch our tails to make sure we don’t overstep. But we have to report and assist and do a lot of other things if we see trouble.”
Despite what sounds like an intense workload, the nurses are still eager for more people to seek their help.
“We do not have office hours,” said Herzlinger. “We get calls, and very often they come at inconvenient times. The synagogues may schedule blood pressure screenings, “but if people are in trouble and need something, it is pretty much not going to be from nine-to-five.”