Celebrations of Care and the Ethics of Remembering

This week I visited the Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in San Francisco. I attended a thought-provoking event at the Jewish Community Center and travelled to the 5th National Nursing Ethics Conference in Los Angeles. I also read yet another story about a memorial that is to be taken down.

Celebrating Care – Laguna Honda Hospital

A care facility has existed at Laguna Honda since 1866. It started as a center providing care for the Gold Rush pioneers (see http://lagunahonda.org/OurHistory). Before it became accredited as a hospital in 1963 it was referred to as almshouse, asylum and relief home. Care is provided to a very diverse group of residents, who are often on the margins and who have complex care needs. Laguna Honda Hospital (LHH) is a highly respected skilled nursing, care and rehabilitation facility with some 780 beds. It has been described as ‘God’s Hotel’ in a book by Victoria Sweet (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/health/29zuger.html ) and has many creative care strategies.

The nurses I met at the LHH are impressive and inspiring. They talked of their efforts to manage pain, promote comfort and ‘give residents their humanity back’. They also shared some of the ethical challenges they negotiate, for example, when residents and/or families want treatment that is not in their best interests, when residents refuse care that could reduce suffering or when a resident’s behaviour impacts negatively on other residents and staff.

When I asked about ethics at LHH, one of the nurse managers said he tells student nurses that they need 3 qualities to be a successful nurse at LHH: self-awareness, humility and resilience.

Celebrating Care – Ethics of Caring conference at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)

The conversation about qualities and conditions for good care-giving continued at the Ethics of Caring conference at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center. There were over 200 participants of mostly nurses in practice and education. The theme of the conference was ‘Reimagining Nursing from the Inside Out’. Impeccable organisation  and the lovely environment of the UCLA campus contributed to participants feeling cared for and keen to share their views.

I gave the closing talk on the theme of ‘Aspiring to Care Utopias: The Role of Ethical Competence and Competent Ethics’ and aimed to balance some of the challenges discussed and dystopian descriptions of global and local politics and practices. I concluded that parts of Seamus Heaney’s Nobel talk ‘Crediting Poetry’ were just the ticket. He wrote of trying ‘to make space in my reckoning for the marvellous as well as for the murderous’. If you have time, I recommend you read this (see https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1995/heaney-lecture.html)

Ethics of remembering

How we best remember, commemorate or celebrate the past seems ever-present during this sabbatical. The presenters at the ‘Intergenerational trauma and the Holocaust’ event – Helen Epstein and Elizabeth Rosner – were daughters of Holocaust survivors. They shared their stories and talked of the importance of enabling people to remember through writing and storytelling.

 [Mural from the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco]

A story which appeared this last week also concerned remembering – or perhaps the desire to forget – and relates to the planned removal of a statue considered ‘racist and disrespectful’ in San Francisco (http://ktla.com/2018/03/08/san-francisco-to-remove-100-year-old-statue-deemed-racist-and-disrespectful/ ).

A wise colleague at the Ethics of Caring conference said we need to distinguish between what we commemorate and what we celebrate. It could be said that statues viewed as ‘racist and disrespectful’ can also serve as necessary reminders of past discrimination, of appalling abuse and misuse of power.

So how should we remember past events that came to be viewed as crimes against humanity? Telling stories is one way but what of statues? Is it better to keep the statues that commemorate past injustices? Or get rid of them? Are there other and better ways to help people remember past atrocities with a view to making these less likely to be repeated in the present and future? What do you think?

Next week I will tell you what it is like to celebrate St Patrick’s Day here and invite you to consider if you have the qualities of a Stoic…