Church-based nurse helps caregivers, older adults

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

For Deb Goldfeder, serving as a nurse for a unique church-based senior ministry means working with caregivers as well as older adults.

For example, Goldfeder receives calls from adult children who live out of town and want to get their parent in activities sponsored by SAJE Senior Ministry, an ecumenical program for seniors in the Crestwood/Sunset Hills area. Its activities are open to all regardless of religious or congregational affiliation.

Other times, she works with families on the level of care that's appropriate for their loved ones. Sometimes family members don't see the changes taking place in their relatives and Goldfeder, who is a member of the SAJE staff, will provide them an initial assessment that may lead them to seek different living arrangements for the older adult.

"Someone today asked me if I could help her with her mother who is in South Carolina. I won't see her, but I have contacts and information across the country of organizations to contact and questions to ask — things that might guide a person who making a decision of a good place for their parent," Goldfeder said. "Helping to support the daughter through a difficult time is part of what I'm doing."

Giving them some tips on ways to evaluate the quality of care at a residential facility is another example. She sometimes goes to a hospital and meets with the family as they are making difficult decisions. An ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church, she works closely with the priests, ministers and staff of the churches.

SAJE, founded in 2010, is a partnership of four churches in the Crestwood/Sunset Hills area — St. Thomas/Holy Spirit Lutheran and Episcopal Church of the Advent, along with two Catholic parishes, St. Justin Martyr and St. Elizabeth of Hungary. SAJE is an acronym for the churches.

It's expensive to get help and advice generally, but as a faith community nurse there's no charge for her services to the people of the church boundaries.

SAJE has volunteer drivers who take people to medical appointments, beauty shops, grocery stores and other places. "Our goal is to keep people who are aging safely in their own homes as long as possible," Goldfeder said.

Some who are aging have difficulty with communications with their physician, so she sometimes accompanies a SAJE member to a doctor appointment to help the older adult take notes on the plan of care. Dale Iffrig of Episcopal Church of the Advent is one who relied on Goldfeder's advice before and after he had surgery for a heart condition. He's a regular at the exercise classes SAJE sponsors.

"We can see trends of people who are beginning to fail," Goldfeder said. "They may tell us they've fallen. There's a lot of interventions we need to do then."

St. Thomas/Holy Spirit offers Christian Community Homecare, a fee-for-service home care agency. Caregivers help with light housekeeping, meal preparation and more. Goldfeder consults with their staff.

The zip codes of the four churches have among the largest number of older people in the St. Louis area who are living in their homes, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. One way for them to ward off loneliness or depression is to take part in SAJE activities, ranging from pickleball, for those who are the most active, to cards, games and movies. They make connections with each other and look out for each other.

SAJE, Goldfeder said, "is a wonderful coming together of the sponsor churches. It is a mission to the seniors in the community."

Goldfeder cares for the SAJE members' physical, social and spiritual needs. She does health assessments and advises on weight, diet, home safety and other concerns. The nurse is an advocate for patients, helping with medication plans and much more, all with the aim to keep people in a safe and supportive environment. 

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