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Kaiser Permanente Redwood City Nurse Brings ‘Thrive’ to Local Church

Melchora von Giese, RN, champions safety, nutrition, and exercise at St. Anne’s.

By day, Melchora von Giese, RN, is a respected patient-centered nurse at the Kaiser Permanente Redwood City ICU. She leads multiple patient care initiatives and champions the health of Kaiser Permanente’s most fragile patients.

But in her off-hours, she  is also championing the health and safety of her Union City church, improving nutrition and exercise, and even helping the parish pastor lose 30 pounds.

“Mellie set up these fitness classes and I started going a couple of times a week,” said Father Geoffrey Baraan, the pastor of St. Anne’s in Union City. “I lost the weight. It’s great!”

For von Giese, it all started one Sunday when she helped a parishioner who fainted during one of the masses. The huge, 5,000-family St. Anne’s has 4 masses each weekend, and they can be crowded.

“I talked to nurses who went to the other masses, and learned that fainting was common,” said “Nurse Mellie,” as her fellow parishioners call her. “So I had an idea.”

Von Giese paid a visit to Father Geoffrey and talked about setting up a medical first aid team that would attend each of the masses and offer emergency help to any of the parishioners who needed it.

“I told him I was concerned about the safety of our parishioners,” von Giese explained.

Father Geoffrey agreed, and from the pulpit on Sundays called for volunteers to help von Giese set up a team of 80 people, including East Bay Kaiser Permanente doctors, nurses, allied professionals, and medical students.

Von Giese arranged a training program for the team–which goes by the name S.M.A.R.T, “St. Anne Medical Action Response Team”—and got the team special shirts, emergency supplies, and a first aid bag.  She  manages their schedule to make sure each mass has coverage, and she even got the church an automated external defibrillator (AED).

“I believe in Kaiser Permanente’s goal of prevention,” said von Giese. To that end, her next project at St. Anne’s was a monthly health screening, which identified diabetes and high blood pressure as common conditions among the parishioners. That led von Giese to start health seminars at the church, organized by the S.M.A.R.T team. It was time for another visit with Father Geoffrey.

“I saw that St. Anne’s had a rarely used parking area, and mentioned that it would be great to build a garden there as a source of healthy veggies for the parishioners,” von Giese said.

Again, Father Geoffrey said “yes.” He advanced the money for materials, so volunteers could build 30 raised beds on the property; von Giese then rented them out to pay back the church.

“Father Geoffrey blessed the planting beds, and the crops have been great,” von Giese said. “We’ve even had farmers markets at the church.”

Her next meeting with Father Geoffrey started an exercise program at St. Anne’s—first  as a weekly “Walks with the Priest” around the neighborhood, then morphing into weekly fitness classes attended by scores of parishioners. (It’s how Father Geoffrey lost those 30 pounds.)

“I’m not surprised hearing any of this about Nurse Mellie,” said Barbara Van Amburg, Chief Nursing Officer at Kaiser Permanente Redwood City. “Mellie’s worked in many initiatives to improve patient safety and care in our ICU. She’s a real leader.”

Even though von Giese lives in the East Bay, not far from her beloved St Anne’s Church, she says she’s not thought of transferring to any of the Kaiser Permanente facilities closer to home.

“No,” she said, gesturing to the Kaiser Permanente Redwood City  ICU, “this is my family here.”


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