Lehigh Valley

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist talks about upcoming Bethlehem lecture

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Even more important to writer Ellen Goodman than winning another Pulitzer Prize like the one she earned in 1980, or penning another nationally syndicated column, is having engaging and productive conversations.

And the talk she is most passionate about these days is the one between end-of-life patients and their loved ones including spouses, children, friends, healthcare providers and institutions.

"As a journalist I used to cover social change, but now I'm making social change," said Goodman.

On April 19, Goodman will be speaking at a ticketed lecture at Bethlehem's Central Moravian Church entitled "The Most Important Conversation America Isn't Having" detailing when it comes to end-of-life care, one conversation between involved parties can make all the difference.

The appearance is a community event presentation offered by the Dr. and Mrs. Max Littner Memorial Lecture Series for bereavement and St. Luke's University Health Network in Bethlehem.                             

During a phone interview Thursday morning, Goodman explained it's not easy for someone to talk about how you want the end of your life to be, however, it's one of the most important conversations you can have with loved ones.

She promised whether someone is getting ready to tell someone what you want, or you want to help someone else prepare to talk, those in attendance will leave the lecture with the necessary tools to start the conversation.

Goodman is the founder of "The Conversation Project" an initiative of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. She noted the project is dedicated to helping people talk about their final wishes and no guide or single conversation can cover all the decisions a patient and their family may face. However, what talking can do is provide a shared understanding of what matters the most to a patient and their loved ones and ensure easier decision making down the road. 
The former columnist said "The Conversation Project" began because of a story about the death of her own mother who suffered from dementia and the myriad of medical decisions Goodman was forced to make as the only one responsible for her mother's end-of-life care.

Referring not only to her own experiences but also those of her friends, "We knew we could do this better, " Goodman said.                                     

"It's a very tender and difficult subject that needs conversation before a crisis," she said. "Death and loss are tender subjects for people."

Goodman said the current interaction between the healthcare system and the community is so vital and stressed the importance of reaching both groups.

"It's a public engagement campaign for the system," she said. "This fits into healthcare right now---it's not about death panels but about people having their final wishes observed."

The project is represented by several "kits" as they are referred to by Goodman. These include information geared towards starting conversations with doctors, children, and relatives, addressing conditions like Alzheimer's and dementia, and choosing a proxy among other topics.

"Mortality is the one universal condition," she said and added, "People who don't have conversations are often left feeling guilty, depressed, and anxiety ridden. Anything that encourages people to talk about this is great."

She said fear, and fear of loss are "the big-ticket items" here.

Goodman said those who attend her lecture and start conversations about end-of-life issues feel engaged, positive, and confident as a result of following the project.

Presently, she is working with faith communities to get them more involved because they are as unreachable as doctors and financial planners, she said. She suggested these groups may be the subject of new "kits" her project may offer in the future.

According to Goodman, the evening will include a 40-minute talk followed by a brief video and then a question and answer period. 

Tickets cost $10 each and are available by calling 1-866-STLUKES or visiting their website and searching for the 'Littner lecture series.' 

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