Detroit 2014 and International Caritas Consortium Conference Report

Sitting in with Detroit pianist Cliff Monear at the Detroit Institute of the Arts
Sitting in with Detroit pianist Cliff Monear at the Detroit Institute of the Arts

Sometimes life is so packed with activities that it’s difficult to adequately report in my occasional blogs. That is my feeling about this past week in Detroit.

Andy Levin's rooftop energy project--Solar panel arrays with helical wind power generators
Andy Levin’s rooftop energy project–Solar panel arrays with helical wind power generators

Alternative Energy in Detroit

Through a dear friend, I was put in contact with the state of Michigan’s director for the promotion of alternative energy projects, Andy Levin. He is the son of a US representative (Sander Levin) and the nephew of a US senator (Carl Levin), so needless to say, Andy is politically well-connected. My goal is to create an opening for my German-Norwegian-alternative-energy-magnate-friend Per to bring his patented biomass conversion technology to the US. Detroit, Michigan, is the perfect place for creating the first US demonstration site.

The top of Andy’s office building is packed with solar panels and helical wind turbines. However, discussion with Andy reveals the challenges of promoting alternative energy in the US as compared with Germany. American laws are written by major energy company lobbyists to favor their stranglehold on US energy production. For example, in Germany, the law requires that electricity from alternative generators being added to the energy grid be compensated at the highest tariff rate. In Michigan (and in the whole US as I understand it), the electricity from Andy’s rooftop solar panels that is added to the grid is compensated at only 20% of the kilowatt rate that his building pays at night or during cloudy days. Nonetheless, when Per is ready (when his international patents are secured), Andy thinks he will be able to facilitate and find US partners for Per to establish his first US biomass energy conversion plant.

Synphony Hall
Symphony Hall

The Re-energizing of a Great City

Detroit suffered tremendously during the last decades, starting with the disastrous race riots in 1967, to the abandonment of the auto industry (as documented by documentary filmmaker Michael Moore in his film Roger and me), to the diversion of funds by corrupt mayor Kwami Kilpatrick (now in jail). The “white flight” stimulated by the race riots resulted in a dramatic reduction of the tax base, a reduction in overall population from two million to today’s seven hundred thousand residents, leading to the bankruptcy of the city, followed by a financial caretaker appointed by the Michigan governor to lead Detroit out of bankruptcy. The caretaker was given the power to negate previous city contracts in order to negotiate settlements with the aggrieved parties who otherwise would tie up the city in lawsuits for years. By reports from my friends in Detroit, the caretaker has done a good job in leading the city, something that was apparently impossible for the elected city council to accomplish. This is a dubious example of a dictatorship (by an unelected appointed bureaucrat) functioning better than the democratically elected city council and (corrupt) mayor.

DIA's Diego Rivera mural: Some wanted to paint it over because of Rivera's "communist" themes
DIA’s Diego Rivera mural: Some wanted to paint it over because of Rivera’s “communist” themes

Meanwhile, there is visible reconstruction and improvement in the downtown and mid-town area. Detroit is home to the Detroit Institute of the Arts (DIA), a world-class museum that had been threatened by the creditors who wanted to sell off its art collection. Worth millions of dollars while being priceless, the art was saved by private foundations which helped form a non-profit and move it out of municipal ownership.

Detroit Institute of the Arts ceiling detail
Detroit Institute of the Arts ceiling detail

Detroit is home to one of the best US orchestras, the Detroit Symphony (DSO), led by the eminent conductor, Leonard Slatkin. It has the Michigan Opera Theatre, which has its own orchestra. And last by not least, Detroit is the source of the “Motown Sound,” many hit songs by Detroit artists such as Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Smoky Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, and many others. Detroit still benefits from this rich musical legacy, whose hit songs are performed by artists around the world.

Ovation following Garrick Ohlson's Rachmaninov performance
Ovation following Garrick Ohlson’s Rachmaninov performance

Caritas Nursing Science

The main reason for our Detroit visit was for Susan to speak at the 20th International Caritas Consortium, a conference led by nursing pioneer Dr. Jean Watson, the originator of the Caritas theory of nursing/caring science. We’ve known Jean for many years. She is the originator of the Middle East Nurses for World Peace conference, which will again take place in Aqaba, Jordan, next February, and which Susan and I have again sponsored and will attend.

Dr. Jean Watson
Dr. Jean Watson

The essence of Jean’s Caritas theory is documenting what nurses do everyday. She focuses on humanistic practices that serve both nurse and patient. Nurses then reclaim their original motivation to serve the ill, which led them to become nurses in the first place. The stress today is between a biomedical model, which can make the patient the “object” of care, and a humanistic/caring model the respects the patient and nurse and invests in the power of relationship. The results point to better patient care, less burn-out, and a more empowered profession within the healthcare establishment. Caritas processes have been adopted by hospitals around the world.

Susan prior to her plenary presentation
Susan prior to her plenary presentation

While working as the Dean of Nursing for thirty years at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Jean is the holder of numerous honorary doctorates from a dozen or more countries around the world. Jean regularly travels around the world promoting Caritas. We worked with her in Qatar two years ago, an experience that resonates with us still. Because of our work in developing and promoting the CARE Channel, Jean regards our work as being in full alignment with hers and invites us to join her at the conferences she organizes.

Next year will be our third conference to attend in Jordan. Jordan is chosen because it is the only neutral country in the Middle East that can host Israeli and Palestinian nurses together. Unfortunately, because of the widespread mutual animosity (increased by the recent war between Israel and Gaza), the nurses are forced to attend secretly in order to avoid reprisals from their neighbors. Jean’s position is that all nurses share the same values. Thus, Arab and Israeli nurses together represent a unified force for peace between their populations. “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me (us).” This event was and remains motivate and organized by the nurses themselves. The common language is in the Caritas processes.

Susan and I were extremely gratified in the conference to hear that Caritas nurses love the CARE Channel and use it regularly as part of their care plans. It seems that most of the Caritas hospitals represented (which are among the most progressive in the country) already have our CARE Channel. We are proud of the CARE Channel representing the best channel available anywhere with the goal of creating a healing environment by providing peaceful nature images with beautiful music.

The Dance of Life (Detroit Institute of the Arts)

It is interesting to contrast the Caritas Conference with the Planetree Conference, which we attended in Chicago two weeks ago. (See my recent previous Chicago Blog.) Planetree was founded by a patient with the goal of improving healthcare by promoting patient-centered-care. Caritas was founded to improve and elevate nursing practice to be more caring for the caregivers and patients. The ultimate goals of the two organizations are similar—a better more humane healthcare system.

The CARE Channel benefits nurses and patients (as well as visitors, administrators, and families) equally well. We are honored to be part of the emerging grassroots movement to improve healthcare from within, as opposed to trying to improve it through legislation, such as Obamacare. All such efforts from every aspect are needed. The discussions and evidence presented at these conferences give rise to hope and the expectation of meaningful improvements to our American healthcare system which is in dire need of reforms.   At the same time, it is clear (looking at the Canadian system) that access to care remains inconsistent and the cost is uncontrollable.

During the Caritas conference, we were given a list previously assembled of the values and interventions to be included in Caritas patient care. Imagine what healthcare would be like if every nurse and physician delivered care with the following values foremost!  This is just a partial list.

Practice loving kindness

Instill faith and hope

Cultivate sensitivity

Develop a helping trusting relationship

Create a healing environment

Caringly attend to basic human needs

Allow for miracles and the unknowns

Offer patient choices when providing physical care

Partner with Chaplaincy and Social Services

Maintain comfort, Assess for pain

Promote expression of feelings

Education in patient’s frame of reference

Adapt environment to patient choice

Anticipate and be responsive to unstated needs

Be hopeful

Show concern

Spend time

Support family


Fountain within the Detroit Institute of the Arts
Fountain within the Detroit Institute of the Arts

Comments (3)

  1. LaVerne Nielsen

    October 30, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    You’re just like the New York Times.I learned so much I didn’t know.Lots needs to be done on end of life problems.Don’t forget us. Your life is so wonderful Dallas.

  2. Shanna Carlson

    October 30, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    Thanks for all the blogs Dallas – gives me a sense of hope for changes…

  3. jim

    October 30, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    The “Dance of Life” Indeed!

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