Long before it was common to integrate health and wellness activities with faith communities, Vernessa Autry, registered dietitian, founded the program.
Founded in 1870, St. Augustine Catholic Church is one of the oldest African American parishes in the nation. Its legendary Lenten fish fry is one expression of the faith community’s mission of outreach with a family-centered perspective. Fish fry patrons enjoy homemade side dishes as church members collaboratively serve each meal with sincere gratitude and conversation.
Founded decades ago, the St. Augustine health ministry could be classified as legendary, too. Long before it was common to integrate health and wellness activities with faith communities, Vernessa Autry, registered dietitian, founded the program. She coordinates efforts with fellow parishioner William Walker.
One long-standing activity is holding blood pressure checks every third Sunday. About 20 members have their blood pressure taken after Mass by a registered nurse or health professional on the ministry team — a parish member they know personally. This allows for a less clinical and more relaxed, confidential setting.
Since March 2018, the St. Augustine health ministry has successfully implemented the Norton Faith & Health Ministries CARE (cardiovascular assessment, risk reduction and education) Collaborative Blood Pressure Encounter. Team members were educated and certified as CARE coaches by the Kentucky Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Program and Norton Faith & Health Ministries. CARE coaches assist members to correctly identify blood pressure readings in zones: green (normal), yellow (caution) and red (warning). People often don’t understand number ranges or remember their numbers from one reading to the next. Identifying and learning color zones may help them to identify, modify or adopt the lifestyle behaviors that lead to better health.
The Blood Pressure Encounter allows time to discuss lifestyle behaviors and medication compliance, but it’s the spiritual encounter that makes this a sacred connection. Taking time to sit with individuals in a caring, prayerful atmosphere is imperative to caring for the soul, mind and body.
Since implementing the CARE Collaborative, St. Augustine health ministry members have witnessed others correctly identify their blood pressure zones, ask questions about medications, improve medication compliance and make lifestyle changes such as healthier eating and increased physical activity. Awareness and control of blood pressure can empower individuals to take care of their health in partnership with their health care provider.
Michele Harbin, R.N., MBA, is the health ministries coordinator and faith community nurse for Norton Faith & Health Ministries.