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Dedicated parish nurse Sarah Dunlop a ‘safety net’ for vulnerable Catholics

Parish nurse Sarah Dunlop

Health support: Sarah Dunlop is the dedicated Community Services Liason co-ordinator, or parish nurse, for Jubilee parish. Photo: Emilie Ng

IF there’s something strange with your health, who you gonna call?

For parishioners at the Jubilee parish, they dial the “hotline” to parish nurse Sarah Dunlop.

A former fashion designer who changed careers to become a nurse more than 15 years ago, Mrs Dunlop is the “safety net” ensuring parishioners don’t disappear from their radar, especially when it comes to their health and medical needs.

“I visit people all the time,” Mrs Dunlop said.

“I’ll sit and cry with people, have cups of tea with people.

“One individual could take up a whole lot of the time if you know for example, they’ve got cancer and they’re going to therapy and then there’s all the various allied health services that they need to get to, specialist appointments, or if it’s someone trying to find residential care or its taking them around to the places to show them.

“You do become an integral part of facilitating their care and creating a healthy life, a safe and healthy support system.”

And when she’s not visiting someone, Mrs Dunlop is on the phones with other medical specialists, doctors, lawyers and other professionals to get the right level of care for her patients, who also happen to be fellow parishioners.

The job as parish nurse opened up five years ago as a response to a growing concern in the Jubilee parish.

While making visits to parishioners, parish priest Fr Peter Brannelly became aware of his “inadequacy” in giving correct health advice.

He also noticed some older parishioners and their families were unaware of the services that were available to them.

“What I was discovering here at Jubilee was that the whole medical world is very intimidating and if you’ve got to go through it by yourself, it can be quite terrifying,” Fr Brannelly said.

“In that very big and unknown world of medical, of hospitals, of aged care, there’s a lot of resources there but how do you access them or how do you know that you are entitled to them?

“Too many of our parishioners were slipping through our awareness because of all the medical questions.”

His solution was to create a new job for a parish nurse.

Fr Brannelly was set to advertise a position under the title of community services liaison co-ordinator when Mrs Dunlop, a parishioner at Red Hill and mum of two, walked into his office.

Mrs Dunlop spent 15 years working as a hospital nurse and was looking to spread her wings and serve the community in another way.

“I was looking for some way I could help in the community but using my nursing, hopefully, and this was it, and it was flexible, it was good for me as a mum, so it allowed me that time with my children as well,” Mrs Dunlop said.

Since starting in the role five years ago, the registered nurse has supported parishioners in all stages of life, from denial to healing, right through to death.

“It’s sad to watch people going through the different stages of ageing and dying because you do become really attached and part of their family and it’s sad losing someone,” Mrs Dunlop.

“I do follow all the way through as any nurse does.

“There’s also a lot of people in the community, older people that feel that someone else is more deserving of your time.

“You come across people that are just struggling along and it’s just not the way it should be.

“You need to educate people that it’s their turn to accept help.”

While Mrs Dunlop’s job is to help parishioners in the Jubilee parish, she insists the role needs to spread into other parishes across the country and the world.

She has already been asked to speak in other parishes across Brisbane at the request of parish priests who have served at Jubilee over the years.

“I think it’s an important part of the Church to have a role like this in every parish,” Mrs Dunlop said.

“In terms of how far I could take it, I plan to be here for a long time.”

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