St. Olaf College | News

For the Sake of Elder Care

Faculty members sit around a table looking at textbooks.
Faculty members gathered to discuss publications proposing fixes to the current health care system to better facilitate elder and end-of-life care.

In anticipation for the Institute for Freedom and Community’s spring lecture series, “Freedom, Community, and Health Care,” faculty from across St. Olaf College’s campus gathered for a third and final session to discuss the glaring issues facing elder care and end-of-life care in the United States.

Edmund Santurri, the Morrison Family Director of the Institute for Freedom and Community, began the session with an introduction to the assigned readings the group was tasked with analyzing prior to the meeting and a brief introduction into the climate of current elder and end-of-life care services.

Of the assigned readings, three publications took center stage: Health Care As a Social Good by David Craig, Who Cares? How to Shape a Democratic Politics by Joan Tronto, and “The When and Where of Love: Subsidiarity as a Framework for Care for the Elderly,” by Lucia A. Sileechia.

While the conversation began with ethical practices of end-of-life care, the democratization of health care, and the principle of double effect, it quickly mushroomed into an open discussion of a “generational gap” in perceptions of elder care to potential remedies for the current health system. Faculty shared opinions, perceptions, and experience relative to their fields and personal experiences.

Participants were grateful to have such a wide array of faculty to discuss the complexities of elder care and end-of-life care. College Pastor Matthew Marohl particularly favored the breadth of disciplines represented at the session. “I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to read and discuss a series of books and articles with colleagues from across the college,” Marohl explains. “To engage with faculty from a cross-section of disciplines over the practical and not-so-practical dynamics of our healthcare system meant that our time together was always well informed and unpredictable.”

Associate Professor of Economics Ashley Hodgson enjoyed having an academic view brought to the table. “It was really helpful to have colleagues at the table who could place the readings in their broader academic context,” says Hodgson. “I understood the different perspectives much better after Ed [Santurri] introduced the readings.”

Man sitting at a table speaking to a group.
Ed Santurri led the third and final discussion leading into the IFC’s Spring Series

While the conversation dove deeper into the assigned texts, it became clear that there was no simple solution to the issue at hand and it would not be a fix that happens over night. Seminar participants cited the economic complexities, the cultural mentality of “handing care over to the professionals,” and the lack of available resources to be explanations for issues and lack of access to elder-care. But some agreed that a cultural shift could provide some answers to questions many around the United States ask: “What can we do to provide the best elder and end-of-life care?”

“I really enjoy organizing these seminars because it gives faculty a chance to get out of our academic enclaves and think in interdisciplinary ways about courses and research,” states Santurri. “For this one in particular, aging and elder care don’t get a lot of play in public discussions at the college or the larger society, so it fits squarely with the Institute’s purpose of generating thoughtful dialogue in the St. Olaf community about important issues.”

The open-ended conclusion provided the perfect entrance for a visit by Joanne Lynn, Director of the Center for Elder Care and Advanced Illness at the Altarum Institute, and the following events of the Institute for Freedom and Community’s spring series.

In the next lecture, Gilbert Meilaender discusses the “The Ethics of Palliative Sedation,” on March 15, followed by two parts of “Health Care: Should We Move to a Single-Payer System?” Part one engages David Craig and Joan Tronto in a discussion on whether the United States should move to a single-payer health care system and will be held on April 19, 2018. Part two addresses the same topic but with speakers Amitabh Chandra and Tyler Cowen on April 26, 2018.