Community nurses provide respite for the weary

Ann Sodders, a registered nurse with 37 years of experience, wholehearted believes that when it comes to the sick in our faith community, spiritual nurturing goes hand-in-hand with physical healing. As organizer of the Diocese of Palm Beach Catholic Charities respite program, Sodders also recognizes that it’s not always the patients who need attention, it’s their caregivers, too. “Many homebound people in our neighborhood rely on a loved one to care for them. Oftentimes, the caregiver is the only one around to care for their mother, father or spouse and it’s a huge burden to carry on their own. They need rest, or respite, from their dedicated caregiving,” said Sodders.

In 2017, the respite program received grant funding from Allegany Franciscan Ministries, a member of Trinity Health, to initiate an outreach program that provides caregivers to the homebound relief in caring for their loved one. “By allowing the caregiver a chance to rest and focus on themselves for an hour or two, it makes them better caregivers. Many caregivers use their time to catch up on housework, sleep or enjoy a hobby they haven’t gotten to focus on in a while,” noted Sodders.

One would think that given the opportunity to rest from caring for their loved one, caregivers would jump at the thought of free time. However, Sodders explained that in some cases the homebound patient is in an extreme state that requires 24/7 care. For instance, Sodders elaborated how one caregiver, who cared for her mother with advanced Alzheimer’s, simply wanted to sit on the front porch and take in the happenings of her neighborhood. “Out of curiosity, I often ask the caregiver what they would like to do with their free time. Many times, the caregiver struggles to think of anything to do or can’t bear the thought of leaving their loved one because it’s all they’ve known for so long,” said Sodders.

In helping caregivers, the volunteer nurses also make new connections that impact their own lives. Sodders described that one volunteer nurse was assigned a patient that only spoke Spanish and the volunteer was worried communication would be difficult. “After spending time with each other, the volunteer nurse and patient became the best of friends, each learning each other’s language in effort to make a deeper human connection,” mentioned Sodders.

Currently, the respite program only services patients in St. Lucie County, but Sodders hopes to expand the program to other counties. She overseas 4 volunteer nurses and encourages anyone who lives in St. Lucie County with an active RN or LPN license to join the volunteer pool. A key part of the respite program is having volunteer nurses assess the home, provide supportive resources and teach caregivers techniques that they can apply to their caregiving. “It’s so important to keep the sick and elderly comfortable at home because it keeps the mind and spirit sharp. In order to do that, we need more volunteers to join the ranks of the respite program,” said Sodders.

To become a volunteer nurse in the respite program or to learn how to receive respite care, contact Ann Sodders, the respite care coordinator at St. Joseph Catholic Church at (772) 283-0541 or asodders@ccdpb.org.