Just over 10 years ago, a Christian colleague invited Jaclyn Herzlinger to a meeting of parish nurses in Montclair. There, she found church-based nurses working in their spare time doing blood pressure screenings, offering nutrition programs in church schools, and even making home visits.
“It hit me as a Jewish concept — caring for others — but [it was] not being ‘done Jewish,’ and by that I mean in synagogues,” said Herzlinger, a nurse who specializes in palliative care for oncology patients.
It didn’t take long for her to establish a similar program in Springfield in 2001 through grants provided by The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey with assistance from the Wallerstein Foundation. The Congregational Nursing Program recently celebrated 10 years of service to the Springfield Jewish community.
Beginning with a CPR course, the project reflected the support and collaboration of the three Springfield synagogues: the Orthodox Congregation Israel; the Reform Temple Sha’arey Shalom, where Herzlinger is a member; and the Conservative Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael, where the program’s second nurse, Andrea Cook, is a member.
For the Healthcare Foundation, it was the second step in providing a Jewish counterpart to what churches call “parish nursing.” In 1999, JCC MetroWest launched a similar program called Project SHIN (Spiritual Healing Integrating Nursing) with funding from the Healthcare Foundation. In its original incarnation, the SHIN nurse, Karen Frank, served five congregations in Essex and Morris counties on a part-time basis. As the foundation seed money, as planned, diminished in favor of congregational contributions, Frank would come to serve seven congregations throughout Essex and Morris counties, all on a contract basis.
By contrast, the Healthcare Foundation funded the Springfield project for just one year, and the Wallerstein for just two. It has been independent of foundation grants since its third year, supported almost entirely by the three congregations and the occasional private donation.
Herzlinger and Cook provide wellness and physical and mental health services free of charge to synagogue members and their families. The nurses also advise religious school principals and provide CPR and first aid training for members of the synagogues’ school faculties.
“The most important thing I do is to talk to people and listen hard,” said Herzlinger. “Often I just need to steer people back to their doctors with the right questions to ask.”
Particularly for seniors, she said, there can be a maze of doctors and pharmacies involved in patient care, but without a single primary care physician coordinating treatment. She and Cook also help parents learn how to give injections to children newly diagnosed with illnesses like diabetes, or answer questions from patients recently released from a hospital about their recuperation.
Herzlinger said she views congregational nursing as a kind of missing link. A 2009 textbook on faith-based nursing suggested that the profession “focuses on intentional care of the spirit as part of the process of preventing or minimizing illness in a faith community.”
“When you first learn about nursing, you learn that the practice of nursing has four domains: the physical, the psychological, the social, and the spiritual. And after that, you never hear the word spiritual again,” Herzlinger said.
“I work on the spiritual side of nursing — how people live with what they have, managing their quality of life, and coping with what they have.”