A visible display of appreciation for local nurses will spring up on the lawns of the Douglas County Courthouse and Essentia Health-St. Mary’s during National Nurses Week, May 6-12. The signs are a message from Northern Waters Parish Nurse Ministry, a way to recognize how difficult the year has been for nurses who live and work in Superior and Douglas County.

“We’re hoping to make sure all the nurses in our area feel supported and appreciated,” said Lyndi Sakuray, executive director of Northern Waters Parish Nurse Ministry.

The week will kick off with a proclamation by Superior Mayor Jim Paine at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, May 6, at the courthouse.

May 6 has been a national day of recognition for nurses since 1982, according to the American Nursing Association. Eight years later, the association expanded it to a weeklong celebration ending May 12, Florence Nightingale's birthday.

In past years, Northern Waters Parish Nurse Ministry has held in-person events for local nurses, offering gift bags and food. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down any activities last year, but this year ,the nonprofit is reaching out in a more public way.

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“We definitely want to give a big shoutout and a big 'thanks' to all of the nurses working in all capacities,” Sakuray said. “Their jobs were turned upside-down in so many ways.”

Thursday’s event serves a dual purpose. In addition to nurses week, it will celebrate the ministry’s 25th anniversary. The milestone came to light when the Mayor’s Office contacted Sakuray about the proclamation.

Holistic health

After 45 years as a critical care nurse, Jan Stevens wasn’t ready to retire fully.

“I wanted to keep giving back to the community,” she said.

Stevens began serving as a parish nurse at Peace Lutheran Church in Poplar in 2007.

“This is what I was always meant to do. This is the best part of my nursing career is being a parish nurse,” Stevens said. “It just makes my life meaningful.”

The crux of parish nursing is blending nursing care with faith to provide holistic health with a “w," she said.

As a parish nurse, also known as a faith community nurse, Stevens serves as a health advocate for parishioners, often working in tandem with the pastor. That can include home visits and referrals (phone calls during the pandemic) or taking people to their doctor’s appointments and sitting in on the discussion with the doctor “to be their ears.” She visits church members in hospice to offer prayer and comfort measures and provides health education with a spiritual component to the congregation. She led a church-based exercise class when there was interest.

As a member of the church’s bereavement ministry, she sends care notes periodically to parishioners during the first year of loss following the death of a loved one. Stevens also holds monthly blood pressure/counseling clinics when in-person church takes place.

“There’s much more to that than taking a blood pressure,” Stevens said. “It’s a time for people to come in and confidentially talk about something that might be bothering them.”

It takes a week of training to become a parish nurse, and most serve as unpaid staff. Michelle Rowell, pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church in Superior, said having a parish nurse is priceless. They serve as a ministry partner.

“It helps people to see the church is not just about going to church on Sundays,” Rowell said. “It’s about our whole lives. We care about the wellbeing of people, the whole person spiritual, physical, mental, everything together.”

This week’s celebration is about honoring nurses in Superior and Douglas County.

“It’s important to recognize them all the time,” Rowell said. “Because they are people dedicated to the health and wellbeing of others.”

This year, in the midst of a pandemic, that message is amplified.

“We recognize how difficult their job is and has been this year,” Stevens said.

The event is also an opportunity to focus on parish nurses in local churches.

“It’s interesting all the ways they serve behind the scenes that, if you’re not calling upon them yourself, you don’t necessarily realize all of the ways they’re touching people in the congregation and the community," Sakuray said.

Northern Waters Parish Nurse Ministry encompasses Northwestern Wisconsin counties, including Douglas, Bayfield, Ashland, Washburn and Burnett. The nonprofit organization offers scholarships for training and support for both nurses and churches. During 2020, the ministry provided grants of up to $250 to four area churches for pandemic-related items such as personal protective equipment or outreach to homebound populations.

Sakuray said the sign displays by Sign Gypsies Twin Ports was partially funded by the Thrivent Grant Action Team.

Visit the Northern Waters Parish Nurse Ministry Facebook page, call 715-392-3080 or email nurse@nwpnm.org for more information.