• Health Ministries Network

April 2019 Newsletter

April 2, 2019. Director's Note, Interview with Sylvia Williams and Else Sokol of Congregation Beth Israel, Did you know?, Upcoming Events, ACP Event Help, and Devotional.

Health Ministries Network (HMN) is a non-profit that initiates, develops and supports faith based health ministry in northwest Washington.

Dear friends,

You may have heard of National Healthcare Decision Day, which is April 16, 2019. Both the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County have proclaimed April 16 Healthcare Decision Day for their respective communities, moving us closer to becoming a community where everyone has thoughtfully considered and shared their healthcare preferences.

The WWU Palliative Care Institute Spring Conference is Friday, May 17 and we have scholarships available. Please let us know if you would like to receive a scholarship to attend by Friday, May 3. Email Sampson at sampson@healthministriesnetwork.net.

Also, please help us showcase your work: submit your hours for January-March 2019! All faith community nurses and health ministers who respond (with or without hours) by noon on Friday, April 19 will be entered to win a $25 gift card to Woods Coffee. The quarterly gift card drawing will take place at our monthly educational event on April 19.

Speaking of our monthly event, the Chaplains from the Spiritual Care Department will join us for our monthly educational event on April 19. Come meet the folks bringing the spiritual to the care at St. Joseph’s! Light lunch will be provided.

Thanks for all that you do for our community.


Executive Director



Health ministers Else Sokol (left) and Sylvia Williams (right) of Congregation Beth Israel

Syliva Williams, HM (right)

Else Sokol, HM (left)

Becki VanGlubt, FCN (not pictured)

Congregation Beth Israel

How long as Beth Israel had a health ministry program?

Sylvia: We call ourselves the Care Committee. It started in 2003.

Who organized that start?

Sylvia: Some of the people in this community may know Anne Brown, who was renowned as a public health nurse for a long time. She was very highly respected in our congregation and she just had a way of connecting people. She was always a greeter, interested in meeting everyone who was new and reaching out and like a good public health nurse realized she couldn’t do it all alone. So, she put a group together and they started in ‘03 and met to talk about the needs of congregants. Who is doing what and how are they doing? They did things like a Shabbat in a bag. When someone had been ill, or in the hospital, or was new, there was a care committee member who went out with Challah and Shabbat candles just as a greeting. That was something tangible to give to people.

What’s the significance of bringing someone shabbat candles in a bag?

Else: Saying a blessing over Shabbat candles and Challah is a ritual spiritual practice. It was really lovely to bring Shabbat in a bag to someone who was suffering because it brought them peace. It also honors the tradition; it says, “we're with you.”

Health ministers Else Sokol (right) and Sylvia Williams (left) of Congregation Beth Israel

How do people’s needs come to the attention of the Care Committee?

Else: We get all of our “referrals” from the Rabbi. The first point of contact if someone needs help is calling the synagogue. And then the Rabbi kind of triages and sends people our way if he thinks that we can help them.

What kinds of care does the committee provide?

Else: We have helped with all sorts of things. Meal preparation when someone's ill or their child is suffering from cancer or a baby is born. Grocery delivery. Someone's house burned down a few years ago and they didn’t have a whole lot of resources and were trying to balance living in a hotel and working full time with health issues. We brought them meals three times a week for many months. We have helped support someone through losing their spot at an assisted living facility, keeping them afloat while they were looking for a new facility, which often takes time. They were actually put in a hotel for a while and we had to make sure that the hotel was safe. I went over and did a safety assessment and found out that her bed was so high that she couldn't even get into it without a step stool and she had mobility issues. So, I had the hotel lower the bed.

Sylvia: We do some transportation, sometimes to the synagogue for services or…

Else: …doctor's appointments. We’ll accompany people if they need another set of ears.

Sylvia: We've done some childcare.

Else: I’ve brought people cat food and kitty litter when they were snowed in or unable to leave their house. During Snowmageddon there was quite a flurry. We have a list of people that we follow on a regular basis. I checked in with the folks that I knew lived alone. The couples seemed fine, but almost every one of the single people needed something and I'm really glad that we checked in because one of them was actually very ill. She requested that we deliver her juice. And that was so simple, but she couldn't get up and she wasn't feeling well. She had an appointment the next day and was admitted to the hospital. She said the juice delivery might have saved her life because she was able to stay hydrated through the night when she wasn't feeling well enough to eat or drink other things.

Sylvia: We just did a hand washing class here with all the Sunday school kids. We do end of life planning.

Else: That was your (Sylvia’s) project and you developed a pamphlet and questionnaire. We keep a copy of those here at the synagogue so when someone passes the Rabbi knows their wishes.

Sylvia: We urge people to read the pamphlet and fill out their last wishes. It gives the Rabbi some information, like what your Hebrew name is, who your contacts are, do you want prayers said at your service, do you want people invited, do you want flowers, do you want to be in a shroud? A variety of questions. We just finished up, “how to visit the sick,” to give people some sort of clues as to what's the better thing to say to make sick people feel more comfortable when visiting.

Else: A week later we did, “how to visit the grieving home.” We write articles to do with health and wellness for the newsletter that comes out every other month.

Sylvia: We talk about flu shots, hand washing, buffet etiquette, sunscreen, wellness things.

Health ministers Else Sokol (left) and Sylvia Williams (right) of Congregation Beth Israel

What challenges face the Beth Israel Care Committee?

Else: One of the challenges that we have in our congregation is getting connected with people. We are not like a Christian congregation where everyone shows up Sunday morning and afterwards it's a good opportunity to see everybody. We have two services a week, Friday night and Saturday morning, and neither are robustly attended, which doesn’t reflect poorly on the community. Beth Israel is a reform congregation, so I think being Jewish means different things to different people. Some people belong here because they want the social environment of a community but not necessarily the religious part of it. And some people want more religion and less of a social connection. So, short of big holidays where masses of people show up, it's hard to reach a lot of people.

What have been the best ways of getting connected with people?

Sylvia: There are several folks in our community who really seem to know everything about everybody.

Else: We won’t mention names but there are those people, and I admire them. I wonder how they find all this stuff out.

Sylvia: And then those folks communicate with the care committee.

Else: Yes, or the Rabbi. We get a heads-up from people.

Sylvia: So, they’re informal connections.

Else: In terms of communicating with the synagogue at large, we sometimes get the space in the newsletter. If we have announcements or anything, we can put them into weekly, “e-news.” We can stand up at a service and make an announcement at any time or give it to the Rabbi to be announced from the pulpit at the end of a service.

Why do you do health ministry?

Else: There's the Jewish notion of bikor cholim, which actually means ‘visiting the sick’. That is one thing we do, but the a more relevant term is gemilut hasadim, literally meaning “the giving of loving-kindness.” Gemilut hasadim is a fundamental social value in the everyday lives of Jews. It is a mitzvah if an individual completes gemilut hasadim without the anticipation of receiving something in return. I think, as a Jewish person, by doing that type of work you’re leading a holier life and remaining closer to God. That’s my understanding. I think, philosophically, that’s why the Care Committee even exists within this synagogue. And then, I think we all probably do it personally for our own reasons too.

Sylvia: Certainly, our nursing background is somewhat motivating for both of us. People sort of have to make choices about where they might want to serve or volunteer, and the Care Committee feels good for many.

Else: For me, it feels good to help people. I've always been a helper. When I was 17, I started nursing school and I remember clearly, we all went around the room and said why we were there and I said, “because I want to help people.” Now fast forward how many decades and I still want to help people. I think it just fulfills a need in all of us to do good deeds, to perform mitzvot.

Health ministers Else Sokol (left) and Sylvia Williams (right) of Congregation Beth Israel

Do you have a story of when health ministry made a difference?

Else: We have a lady that's not a complete shut-in, but she's in a wheelchair and she's got a lot of comorbid diseases and also mental illness. She's pretty stable right now, but she told me that she'd given up on life and she was just pretty much waiting around to die.

Then she got a new motorized wheelchair, which we had nothing to do with, but she called me last week and she said, “I really want to come to services, but I can't because my portable oxygen runs out after two hours and I need these other oxygen bottles. Can someone go get them for me from the oxygen place?” I said, “all right, I don't know what we're talking about but give me the name of the oxygen place.”

So, I called them and explained the problem that she's having. She'd like to get out and about but she’s running out of oxygen and then might be stranded without oxygen waiting for a WTA bus or whatever. So, they said, “well, she doesn't need a bigger tank she just needs this mechanism that controls the flow of oxygen.” So, I called her back and explained that there was another possibility. The oxygen company had to send an order to the doctor, so I facilitated that. Then I went to the oxygen company and picked up a couple tanks just so she'd have some extra in her room and delivered them to her.

When I got to her room, she pulled off the oxygen and kind of threw it on the floor as she was going over to reimburse me for some tomatillos I had brought her. So, the oxygen cannula goes on the floor with the rest of the tubing and I'm like, “oh my goodness be careful this is a tripping hazard.” There were so many things in play right there from a nursing perspective. It's like, here I'm assessing your environment, there's fire hazards, the cannula is on the floor, and she's being treated for pneumonia. So, I said, “let's try to keep the cannula off the floor to keep it clean.”

So, did I stop and do some kind of a spiritual assessment or anything with her? No, but just from the way that she prefaced the whole thing about getting this wheelchair and being able to be out and has boosted my spirits and I want to live now and I'm taking writing classes now, I didn't need to do anything else. I just needed to make sure that she could get out and about in her wheelchair with her newfound freedom with enough oxygen to last her. It's just little things like that that are huge for people.

Sylvia: An elderly couple immigrated here from Czechoslovakia when it was communist. She came second, he came first with the two boys. They had to sneak out, it was harrowing. He survived the Holocaust hiding in the forests, so he's quite a resourceful fellow.

As he got older his wife became more demented. Every one of their children were now dead, two boys by suicide and one from cancer. So, they were really alone, and Anne Brown said, “all right, you got to go visit them.” And that was the beginning of a very, very strong and long-lasting relationship.

But as we watched, the wife became much more unable to take care of herself. And if she didn't like something, she'd lash out at him. He was very small and fragile, and she was big, so it became that there were some safety issues. I’d go out there and we’d make some of her favorite Czech dishes just to do things that might be fun for her. I loved doing those kinds of things, but you could clearly see serious dementia issues and finally it was, “we can't stay here anymore.”

They lived in Blaine a long way from any services so we went hunting for a care place and we got her in one. It was very hard for him because she was seriously demented and would walk the halls all the time, just stressed. He moved in a month later. Just getting them to a safe place out of their home and moving everything was a major deal. My husband became a Care Committee member. We had to haul pickup load after pickup load and take lots of things to the dump. I think we made a big difference for them in their lives, but it was a great effort. And there's nobody else to do it, so I’m glad to.

Interviewed by Sampson Alvarado on March 14, 2019.

Did You Know?

The Health Ministries Network website is full of health ministry resources.

Faith community nurses and health ministers can submit their hours on the Health Ministries Network website

You can submit your hours and be entered to win a $25 gift card to Woods Coffee in just a few minutes!

Upcoming Events

YOUR VOICE - YOUR CHOICE: PeaceHealth AD Workshop Thursday, April 4, 6pm St. Luke's Health Education Center, 3333 Squalicum Parkway, Bellingham WA PeaceHealth offers free monthly interactive workshops to our community. Participants are guided through the simple, yet thought-provoking process of completing an Advance Directive. REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED. Please contact Hilary Walker, Advance Care Planning Coordinator at hwalker@peacehealth.org or 360 752 5267. These Advance Directive workshops are fun, valuable, and productive!

Elder Service Providers 24th Annual Caregiver Conference

Friday, April 5, 8am – 4pm Semiahmoo Resort, Blaine, WA 98230, USA Elder Service Providers is excited to announce our 24th Annual Caregiver Conference. You will not want to miss out on this exciting event. This year we want you to be pampered at our first ever Conference and Retreat. Featured Keynote Speaker Jolene Brackey “Caring for the Caregiver” Reserve online at www.ELDERSERVICEPROVIDERS.org or call (360) 600-8804

Realities of Advanced Medical Interventions - Lynden Wednesday, April 10, 7p