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Nurses’ spiritual care tends to elderly, ailing

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Posted: Friday, July 11, 2008 2:48 pm | Updated: 11:15 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

They're two registered nurses - a Catholic and a Protestant - who have carved out a niche market providing private duty nursing care for the Valley's VIPs.

Lawn Griffiths on Spiritual Life

They're two registered nurses - a Catholic and a Protestant - who have carved out a niche market providing private duty nursing care for the Valley's VIPs.

Lawn Griffiths on Spiritual Life

They call it Celestial Care, and they freely pray with patients if they want it, but they say they don't foist their beliefs on the unreceptive. Yet the women find even their irreligious patients welcome, and even ask for, the power of prayer and Scripture in moments of need or crisis.

"We are two registered nurses who had a dream and a deep faith and a lot of prayer, and, somehow, I believe, to this day, that God just works for us," said Joan Ray, who has been in nursing since 1985.

They won't disclose names of their clients, but during the past 11 years, she and Sarah Beth Heffernan have developed a team of about 70 health care professionals to give in-home medical care to heal the well-heeled or to assist some in the last years of their lives. They include entertainers, "high-profile businessmen, attorneys, doctors, sports figures and people you would recognize," said Ray. She was working as a nurse at John C. Lincoln Hospital in Phoenix in 1997, when she and Heffernan decided to launch Celestial Care.

"I loved to be able to give the one-on-one attention and the extra attention that you absolutely cannot give at a hospital," she said. They restricted their private-pay nursing to "highest-profile clients" whose persnickety demands can be high but whose lifestyles afford extra perks for the assigned registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and certified nurse assistants - things like accompanying patients on cruises, going with them to intimate events with celebrities, or just spending long evenings listening to lifetime stories about the rich and famous.

"I think we've got to establish a good reputation with those types of clients with confidentiality and the level of care" they expect, Heffernan said.

Their brochure, which features playful cherubs in fields of flowers, carries the Scripture: "Two are better than one because they have a good return for their work; if one falls down, his friend can help him up" (Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10).

Ray and Heffernan say compassion is at the heart of their work, and that they seek to be holistic in addressing the emotional, physical and spiritual issues of their patients. Many are provided 24-hour assistance with caregivers working 12-hour shifts, but with a maximum of 40 hours a week.

"We believe the best way to take care of people is through love," Heffernan said. "Our goal is a practice of love, not just with our patients, but with our employees who take care of the people. So we pray for God to provide us with the right employees to take care of the right patients."

When the two meet with potential patients, they ask about religious preferences and what dietary issues may accompany that. Some spurn religion altogether. Most of their clients live in Scottsdale, Paradise Valley and Phoenix.

For about five years, Deidre Blankenship of Edmonds, Wash., employed Celestial Care for her mother, who died in 2002 at 79. At first, her mother, Sue Klein of Scottsdale, needed care just a couple of times a day, but it had to be expanded to around the clock as her health declined.

"They were just lifesavers," Blankenship said, noting that the diligence of the two nurses, especially Heffernan, made it much easier because of the distance she lived from her mother. "She really did watch over my mom's care," she said, calling Heffernan a "real shining spirit."

"What they did with my mom was amazing," she said. The care was "not just for her body, but her spirit." While she and he mother were not particularly religious, they welcomed how Celestial Care showed restraint. At the hospital in her mother's last days, Heffernan and Blankenship talked a lot about God. "She actually spent the last few weeks with me in the hospital when my mom was dying," Blankenship said. They prayed together.

"One year, Sarah came and took my mother to her own family's house for Thanksgiving," she said. "It was the same encompassing love and support that they feel for their fellow human beings" and it goes beyond mere professionalism, Blankenship said. "Sarah and Joan live their beliefs," she said.

While assigned caregivers stop short of washing windows for clients, they will cook meals in the middle of the night if asked, run errands or take them to the beauty parlor. "The patient is in charge" and is "owner of the house," Heffernan said.

"If they want to go to the country club and have lunch, or play cards 2 to 4 p.m. on Fridays with their old cronies of 20 years, we want to make sure they continue that," Ray said. "Our nurses are the ones who do the real work. They really are the key," she said.

For more information, call (602) 375-8880.

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