Inside a storefront near downtown Fort Myers, twenty people wait in a cramped room to be seen by a nurse practitioner. The sign facing the road reads ‘free clinic.’ Parish nurse Yolette Osselin calls the next patient. She passes a painting of Jesus in ‘The Last Supper’ on her way to the sole examination room.
Each Thursday, Osselin comes here to the Maranatha Community Center, a free clinic owned by the pastor of the predominantly Haitian church next door.
Osselin switches back and forth between Haitian Creole and English with the patient and nurse practitioner. She will later follow up with patients either by phone or in-person to see how they’re doing.
Osselin is one of the estimated 10,000 parish nurses serving faith communities across the United States. They work to promote health – both physically and spiritually – often to those with little access to care.
“A lot of the Haitians are connected to a church,” said Osselin. “The ones that I’m serving may not be able to find the resources they need, but they usually count on their church to help out.”
Osselin serves as a parish nurse for about twenty predominantly Haitian churches across Southwest Florida. She visits parishioners in the hospital and in their homes. Pastors often call her if one of their members needs her help.
“A parish nurse does not provide skilled care. We’re more an educator, resource provider, spiritual counselor, health counselor,” said Nancy Roberts, Manager of Lee Memorial Health System’s Parish Nurse Program.
Osselin is one of the 22 nurses affiliated with the program. Together, they serve about 60,000 people in Lee County.
Pastor Altchence Alteme who owns Maranatha Community Center says there’s a lot of need in the Haitian community when it comes to health care and education.
“Every week, I drive people to the emergency [room]. Their high blood pressure is so high. That means the community is very neglected. They don’t have any health insurance,” said Alteme.
Parish nurse Yolette Osselin works to help fill those gaps.
“My goal is to prevent unnecessary hospitalizations. There’s a lot of education that’s still needed especially with someone who has diabetes or high blood pressure who doesn’t understand how to maintain it. So basically we do a lot of one-on-one,” said Osselin.
She also educates through her weekly newsletter to Haitian churches as well as spots on health issues that are broadcast on the local Haitian Creole language radio station.
Osselin says her practice is different than that of a traditional nurse; she can tap into a ‘tool’ that is often hands-off for most health care providers.
“As a faith community nurse, you learn to express faith with someone,” said Osselin. “It’s not about the physical ailment only. Our focus is more into mind, body, and spirit.”
Osselin addresses the spiritual needs of patients and provides comfort. She also embraces the opportunity to pray with them if they ask her to. Her focus on spirituality is not specific to one denomination.
“When I’m here to serve someone, I’m not here to serve a faith,” said Osselin. “I’m here to serve whatever the need is and I’m also here to respect whatever they faith would be.”
Osselin says she hopes her grassroots work empowers people and their faith communities.
Yve Fanor brought his four-year-old son Daniel to the Maranatha Community Center. Fanor says Osselin plays an important role here.
“As you can see our English is not perfect, but she’s better than all of us. She helps us.”