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Emory Saint Joseph's launches Faith Community Nursing program

Media Contact

Mary Beth Spence
Senior Manager, Media Relations

Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital is expanding patient care beyond Emory Healthcare hospitals into Atlanta communities with the launch of the Faith Community Nursing program. This program was developed for Emory Healthcare by Rebecca Heitkam, the specialty director of Congregational Health Ministries and Faith Community nursing coordinator at Emory Saint Joseph's. The program aims to improve access to care in the community, expand awareness of healthy behaviors, provide educational programs and focus on preventive care and disease management.

"When Saint Joseph's was founded in 1880, the bishop in Savannah sent the Sisters of Mercy to Atlanta because he saw a gap in care and a great community need after the Civil War. Our Faith Community Nursing program was similarly launched in response to a community need, and is closely aligned with the mission and outreach of our hospital. We have the ability to serve patients of all faiths through this initiative," says Heather Dexter, CEO of Emory Saint Joseph's.

After attending a six-day, 50-hour course at Emory Saint Joseph's, 140 Emory Healthcare nurses from Emory Saint Joseph's, Emory University Hospital, Emory University Hospital Midtown, Emory Johns Creek Hospital, Emory Wesley Woods, Emory Clinic and Emory Healthcare Network were recently commissioned in the program's inaugural class. Guest speakers during the program covered topics including spiritual care; health, healing and wholeness; behavioral health; family violence; loss, suffering and grief; assessment and community health needs; ethical issues, legal aspects of Faith Community Nursing and more.

Emory Saint Joseph's chaplain Mary Beth Krivanek also discussed the importance of connecting prayer within the community by distributing individual blessing beads that were handcrafted by an Emory Saint Joseph's patient for each of the faith community nurses. "The blessing beads are a reminder of the blessings that come to you, or the blessing you have been to others," she says, explaining the significance of the gift.

"Many of the nurses in our program have volunteered in their community churches for years, and this is a chance to combine their professional experience with something they are passionate about," says Heitkam. Our objective is to support health and healing in partnerships with communities of all faith traditions."

Faith community nurses will teach classes or conduct accountability programs in partnership with faith congregations or community centers. This includes teaching participants how to choose healthy lifestyle behaviors instead of those that contribute to diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and even some forms of cancer. Faith community nurses will also assist with Emory Healthcare sponsored health screenings and wellness events. During the next year, the nurses will complete a portfolio of their community work in order to earn board certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

Emory Saint Joseph's Faith Community Nursing program is the first in the country to include such a wide array of services in a formal nursing structure within the healthcare system. As the only faith-based hospital in the Atlanta area, Emory Saint Joseph's is uniquely positioned to form strong partnerships with faith communities while meeting the holistic needs of the patient.

Heitkam plans to expand Faith Community Nursing further with a one-on-one nurse/patient navigation program. Nurses will be assigned one patient to assist with their complex or chronic medical conditions, all done in collaboration with the patient's Emory Healthcare provider. The nurses will call their assigned patients two to three times per week, assisting with symptom management and navigation of their healthcare journey. "One preventive call could significantly reduce the number of emergency room visits or readmissions to the hospital," says Heitkam.

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