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Paynesville Press - May 3, 2006

Parish nurse serves Nordland community

By Addi Larson

Christianity has always wanted to spread the Good News, and no one needs that spiritual message more than people who might be ailing physically.

Judy Tollefson visiting parishoner That's Judy Tollefson's job at Nordland Lutheran Church as a parish nurse, serving as an educator for health and healing, an advocate to community services, and a facilitator for volunteers.

In 2002, Tollefson, a retired registered nurse, completed a course at the College of Saint Benedict, becoming certified for parish nursing. "When I took this course, I realized that I had gifts that could be used in the nursing profession," she said. It not only used her medical skills from nursing but tapped her compassion, ability to listen, etc.

Judy Tollefson, the parish nurse for Nordland Lutheran Church, checks the blood pressure of Bill Roos of Manannah during a recent visit. Supporting holistic healing, she tries to rejuvenate mind, body, and spirit.

Tollefson, a member at Nordland, is paid for five hours of work each week, but she volunteers 10-15 hours per week in addition.

Parish Nurse Projects, such as the one at Nordland, are funded by the Paul and Alma Schwan Aging Trust Fund, an extension of the Southwest Minnesota Foundation, which is committed to meeting the needs of the aging in order to provide opportunities for their community involvement. This funding has allowed Nordland to develop the Parish Nurse Project, according to Tollefson.

Tollefson said that she believes in holistic healing, including "body, mind, and spirit." Seniors and new moms are among the church members Tollefson visits in their homes and at various medical facilities.

On a typical visit, Tollefson will listen to peoples' needs, discuss their health issues, and clarify their medical information. She involves members through a variety of activities in the community and connects them to resources fitting to their individual needs.

Bill Roos, of rural Manannah, has lived with diabetes for 20 years. He and his wife Ellen have survived a number of life's challenges and attribute recent counsel to visits from Tollefson, allowing them to experience Nordland's healing ministry.

In the past, Ellen has called when beginning to feel worried about her husband's well being. Tollefson showed up at their home earlier this spring to check in with the couple, who said they were appreciative of her thoughtfulness. That day, Roos had just been released from a brief hospital stay, and they said the surprise visit made all the difference.

Connections are an integral part of this position, according to Tollefson. She wants to understand peoples' needs, so she may connect them in the right places. "It takes a lot of listening," she said. "I like listening to people. I like seeing how people do cope with difficult situations and do really well."

Tollefson discusses the health issues of Roos, clarifying his medial needs. She supplied him with a small, magnetic packet called File of Life, which contains his emergency-medical information and hangs on their fridge. There is a File of Life sticker on the Roos' front door, so emergency medical personnel know to look for it.

Tollefson also connects people with community resources and support services appropriate for their situations, such as home health, hospice, LifeLine, Lutheran Social Services, and the R.O.S.E. Center.

During her recent visit, Tollefson took Roos' blood pressure and visually assessed his condition. She noticed that he was using a walker to get around the house, elevated from the wheelchair she last saw him in. And, as for Roos' blood pressure, 104/70: "That's pretty good," said Roos.

Tollefson agreed, "Like a young man."

Tollefson said that simply having someone to visit with can be a mentally stimulating experience. Roos and his wife chatted for an hour about current family news and brought out photos of their grandchildren for Tollefson to see. It also gives her a chance to find out other ways that Roos may heal through emotional interaction. "One thing I enjoy is if the kids come to visit or if we go there," Roos said of his five children, 19 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

Tollefson said that she is not a substitute for pastors' visits, yet works closely with the pastoral-care team to include seniors in "projects in the church that promote health and healing."

According to Tollefson, the Southwest Minnesota Foundation believes that immersing people in a church community does advance the healing process. "They recognize churches as being a very stable community, a community in itself," she said. Nordland currently has around 550 members.

Spirituality is ever-present in Tollefson's work. She believes in the importance of "helping to get people to deal with their illness with their spiritual strengths," she said. "That's what it's really about is keeping people connected with their church and with their God, letting people know that the church cares."

She prayed with Bill and Ellen Roos, with Bill requesting his favorite Bible verse, John 3:16. "It does mean a lot to people to be prayed over," Tollefson said.

The Rooses also asked to hear a verse that Tollefson enjoys, Psalm 118:24: "This is the day the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." She told them that this weather and the spring are remarkably good, especially for people on the mend.

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