2013-08-02 / Community

Pulitzer Prize winner plans visit

Discussion of end-oflife care scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 8
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Southern Maine Medical Center will host An Evening with Ellen Goodman on Thursday, Aug. 8 in Kennebunk Town Hall auditorium.

Goodman will speak about The Conversation Project — a movement she cofounded in 2010.

The Conversation Project, now nationally known, addresses the topic of death in conjunction with the importance of discussing one’s wishes for end-of-life care before it’ is too late.

Most known for her syndicated columns, Goodman has worked as a journalist for most of her professional life.

She reported for the Detroit Free Press beginning in 1965 before moving to the Boston Globe where she started her syndicated op-ed column in 1974.

In 1980 Goodman won a Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary. Goodman, who has written seven books, was also awarded the Ernie Pyle Award for Lifetime Achievement from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

“We know that people are not dying in the way they would choose,” said Goodman. “Seventy percent of people say they would like to die at home. And 70 percent are dying at hospitals and institutions.”

“There’s hardly anyone who doesn’t have one of these experiences in this area. You start talking to people and ‘Bingo,’ everyone has a story about a good death or a hard death. The difference is usually whether the person they loved had the conversation,” Goodman said.

Like Goodman, everyone associated with the facilitation of The Conversation Project has dealt with the repercussions of delaying the conversation with a loved one about end-of-life care.

The objective, Goodman said, is to respect and heed one’s end-of life wishes, leaving that decision up to the individual and not the doctors.

Said Goodman, “We’ve been connecting with a bunch of communities who we think are conversation-ready communities and I think Maine is poised to be one of those communities.

“There are a lot of people who are really interested in this issue in Maine.”

Said Leslie Roberts, director of marketing and communications at Southern

Maine Medical Center: “One of our vice presidents heard Ellen speak at a conference and we thought it would be a wonderful thing to bring to the communities.”

“It’s something we all have to face and make decisions about,” Roberts said. “Certainly in health care, we’re often on the frontlines of experiencing that.”

Southern Maine Medical Center has a long tradition of community education said Roberts.

“It’s always part of our mission to improve the overall health of our communities, so we’re always kind of on the lookout for speakers,” Roberts said. “We just feel that what Ellen is saying is very important for the community to hear.”

Goodman is a proponent of anecdotal storytelling and believes that facilitating conversation with friends and family causes change on a larger scale.

“We didn’t change birth by people saying ‘Wait a minute, this isn’t the way things should be.’ Change is made up of two parts: change from the outside, in; people saying what they want, from the outside, and from the inside — health care providers, social workers — responding and initiating,” Goodman said.

“We’re in the business of changing the cultural norm, from changing these conversations from not happening to happening. And that’s very daunting and audacious,” Goodman said. “We’re working with media and with storytelling. Change happens when stories are shared,” she said.

The Conversation Project’s website offers tools to start the conversation, such as a printable version of the Project’s Starter Kit, as well as helpful tips on how to approach one’s doctor.

“Our view has always been: the way were going to move the needle is by having these conversations with the people you love at the kitchen table before there is a medical crisis,” Goodman said. “One of the things we know is people say it’s too soon and people say that until it’s too late. My only other question for you is: have you had the conversation?”

The event starts at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, however seats must be reserved beforehand by calling 283-7234.

For more information on The Conversation Project, visit www.theconversationproject.org.

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