Kaiser Permanente Redwood City nurse brings health to her Union City Parish

Kaiser Permanente's "Nurse Mellie"
Kaiser Permanente's "Nurse Mellie"

Kaiser Permanente Redwood City Nurse helps church Thrive

         It all started when Melchora von Giese, RN-Staff Nurse IV, Kaiser Permanente Redwood City ICU, came to the aid of a woman who fainted during a Sunday service at their Union City church. It wasn’t the first time Nurse Mellie---her nickname----aided a fainting parishioner. But it became the start of a successful “Thrive”-like program at the 5,000-family St. Anne’s church, engineered mainly by volunteers organized by KP’s Nurse Mellie.
         “Other parishioners---also nurses---told me about similar fainting cases at other masses,” says Mellie, “and I was only attending one of the four weekend masses at St. Anne’s. So I had an idea.”
          Nurse Mellie approached Father Geoffrey Baraan, Pastor of St. Anne Parish Church and proposed setting up a volunteer medical team at the church. It would provide first aid and more to parishioners during all of the often-crowded weekend services.
         “I told Fr. Geoffrey I was concerned about the safety of our church’s parishioners,” she says.
          He agreed and with his announcements from the pulpit, helped Mellie assemble a team of 80 volunteers, including East Bay Kaiser Permanente doctors and nurses, medical students and other health professionals.

      They even have a name: S.M.A.R.T, which stands for “St. Anne Medical Action Response Team.” Nurse Mellie arranged for team t-shirts, assembled a First Aid Bag of bandages, gauze, and other goods, and she keeps the team schedule, making sure enough medical team members are at each mass.  Oh, and Mellie even arranged to buy the church an AED defibrillator for heart attacks through a health fund-raiser.
       Nurse Mellie shares Kaiser Permanente’s goal of prevention. Her vision is to stop people from being sick, from fainting at church. So she organized a monthly health screening that identified diabetes and high blood pressure as common conditions in the St. Anne’s community. That led to church-based health seminars, organized by the S.M.A.R.T team. But wait, there’s more.

              Nurse Mellie then gently convinced Fr. Geoffrey that constructing garden plots on unused church property could build community among parishioners, and grow healthy vegetables to improve diets and prevent illness.
               “Father Geoffrey helped buy the materials, I got volunteers to build 30 raised garden beds, then we rented them out to pay back the church,” smiles Nurse Mellie. “Father Geoffrey blessed the work, and the crops have been great.”

                From this, Nurse Mellie organized a “Go Green” program with “farmers markets” to distribute veggies grown from the church’s yard. Nurse Mellie believes in “Thrive,” KP’s health mantra.

           News of St. Anne’s gardens reached Diocese headquarters in Oakland, and soon, Nurse Mellie was giving Bishop Michael Barber a tour of the St. Anne’s gardens. Bishop Barber and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Fremont) have both been impressed on tours led by Nurse Mellie. But that’s not all.

            “You can’t stay healthy without getting some exercise,” adds Nurse Mellie. “So we have these weekly walks with the priest.” Inspired by Kaiser Permanente’s Healthy Living Initiative, Nurse Mellie organized weekly walks with Father Geoffrey.
       And those one-and-two mile walks with the priest led to a “5K Walk-athon” around Fremont’s Lake Elizabeth, where more than 200 parishioners walked and raised cash to buy the AED device now at the church.

        Nurse Mellie isn’t done yet:  she organized a fitness program three times a week at St. Anne’s gym: “Having fun, getting fit, and bringing the parish together makes a difference towards building a healthy and happy community, she says.                    

       As Nurse Mellie was talking about her Union City church activities while on break from Redwood City’s ICU, a colleague walking by jokingly asked why she didn’t transfer to an East Bay Kaiser Permanente facility.
      “No,” Mellie said firmly, “that’s my church there; this here is my family.”

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