Residents Air Health Care Concerns

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A public hearing by the Maryland Health Care Commission on the Rural Health Care Work Group nearly filled 164-seat Norman James Theater at Washington College Wednesday night. The audience — largely made up of older residents — was there to express concerns over the long-range future of the Chestertown hospital, now called University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Chestertown. While officials have repeatedly said there are no plans to close the facility, there are many who doubt their reassurances. The hearing was an opportunity for the public to address the issues.

Ben Steffen, executive director of Maryland Health Care Commission, answers a question at the public hearing on rural healt care Wednesday in Chestertown

Ben Steffen, executive director of the Maryland Health Care Commission, chaired the meeting. After brief remarks by Delegate Jay Jacobs and state Senator Stephen Hershey, he summarized the 2016 legislation establishing the work group. The act, Senate Bill 707, also set a framework for hospitals that were losing patient volume to convert to freestanding medical facilities – ambulatory hospital campuses or emergency rooms. Among those affected were hospitals in Laurel and in Harford County. Among the provisions of the act was a stipulation that the Chestertown hospital would remain open until 2022.

The work group, which has been meeting since September, includes four advisory subgroups, looking at health care workforce, economic development, care for vulnerable populations, and transportation issues in rural counties. It has met four times, at different locations around the Shore, and will meet again in July and September before delivering its report to the Senate Finance Committee. “Right now, we’re really getting into the weeds and starting to address a lot of the issues with health care services in the rural counties, “ he said.

Steffen then opened the floor to comments. He asked speakers to keep their remarks brief and to the point – “We’re not looking for oratory,” he said, but he said he would not be cutting speakers off. “We want to hear your suggestions and requests,” he said.

First to speak was Carl Gallegos, who introduced himself as chairman of the Chester River Hospital Foundation, which raises funds for the hospital. Gallegos told the audience he had attended the work group session that afternoon – “it’s important to have representation at the meetings,” he said. “It’s important to make our voices known; they listen to us,” he said. The Chestertown hospital is a viable part of Shore Regional Health, the University of Maryland’s umbrella group for the Easton and Chestertown hospitals. He said it was important to maintain the Chestertown hospital.

Bryan Matthews of KRM Development addressed the impact of the hospital on economic development in the local community. KRM is in the process of developing a large business campus on the north side of Chestertown, a multi-million dollar investment, he said. In the process of recruiting new businesses to occupy the space, he said, KRM is routinely asked three questions: the quality of the schools, the availability of health care, and the current workforce. “Health care is out of our control, but we can’t attract new businesses without it,” Matthews said.

Rural Health Care Work Group members Garrett Falcone, Kay MacIntosh, Dr. Joseph Ciotola, Deborah Mizeur, Ben Steffen (Executive Director of the Maryland Health Care Commission), and Dr. Gerald O’Connor

Matthews said he was particularly concerned with the uncertainty whether the town will have a hospital after 2022, which he said creates a “silent dead period” for attempts to induce new businesses to settle in Chestertown. Prospective businesses are leery of investing in a location where the hospital may not be there in five years. The project “will come to a screeching halt” if the hospital closes or downsizes, he said. “We want and need good health care,” he concluded.

Jane Hukill, president of HomePorts, asked what the effect of President Trump’s health care program would be on local health care.

Steffen said there is a broad consensus on health care in Maryland, and gains under earlier administrations won’t easily be given up. He said the state’s Medicaid expansion has benefited many residents in rural areas; “The consensus is, we’d hold onto it,” he said. Also, he said, the state has a different system for reimbursing hospitals than many others, and rural hospitals are well provided for. “So we have some protections,” he said. He noted that the Trump administration has provided some degree of flexibility for individual states under its health care proposals, and Maryland will probably take full advantage of it.

Leslie Price of Worton spoke on behalf of the retirement community, which she said requires not just good health care, but access to hospital beds. “I worry, if there isn’t a hospital with beds, how well Heron Point can keep attracting people,” she said. She said there are times when the hospital is so completely occupied that patients are put in beds in the hallways or kept in the emergency department until beds become available. She said the availability of more beds is critical to providing the kind of service the community needs.

Nancy Carter said recruitment and retention of trained personnel is a key issue. She urged the commission to pay close attention to it.

Zane Carter addressed demographics and transportation issues in Kent County. He said Kent, like a lot of rural counties, has a disproportionate number of residents below age 20 and above age 50, both groups that are more dependent on the availability of transportation than others.  He said that 39 percent of students in the county’s public schools are from single-parent families. If something happens to a parent where they have to be in a hospital for several days, it becomes much harder for their children to get to school or to visit them.

Frances Miller of Chestertown said the proximity of a hospital is a life-and-death issue. She gave two examples from her own family where a relative encountered a medical emergency that would have cost their life if they had been more than a few minutes from a hospital. “Distance can be a killer,” she said. “We can’t have one major hospital down in Easton and hope we can get there in time.”

Bob Coleman spoke from the perspective of volunteer emergency medical personnel. He said the county’s small population limits the number of EMS personnel available. It takes at least two hours of volunteer time from the point when a 911 call comes in until the volunteer is available to take another call. Transports to Easton or Annapolis add another hour, with still more for patients from Rock Hall. “We struggle for volunteers,” he said, and the low population density of Kent County makes the struggle harder. He asked any audience members to volunteer. “We have three paramedics during the day, two at night,” Coleman said. He said the county commissioners had been asked to fund a third paramedic during night hours, and he hoped they would be able to do so, but he said it could easily add $1 million to the budget.

Coleman concluded by saying, “This is our hospital. Maybe the University of Maryland has some papers that say they own it, but my parents helped build it. Many citizens from this community contributed – built wings, built this hospital – it’s our hospital.” He said he was concerned that the University of Maryland was “checking boxes” on a list of criteria that would allow them to close the hospital after 2022. “There should be an opportunity to look for other mechanisms that would keep it here,” he said.

Kay MacIntosh, economic development coordinator for the town of Chestertown, said she had been following the work group’s activities since it was formed. She said the town and county had been laying a lot of groundwork for economic development, noting the KRM project and the installation of a fiber-optic network by the county, plus other signs of long-term progress. “The message that we need to get to the Maryland Health Care Commission and Shore Regional Health is that the decisions they make can greatly deter progress, or they can work with us.”  She also noted that the word “hospital” carries a lot of weight with businesses or individuals thinking about moving to the community.

“I’ve got three hats on tonight,” said Glen Wilson, who was present as a resident of Chestertown, as president of Chesapeake Bank and Trust, and as chair of United Way of Kent County. He said quality health care was a key part of his decision to move here, and he was confident that the $10 million investment Shore Regional Health made in upgrading the emergency room meant a long-term commitment. “But if it’s really a triage

facility, you’re going to go somewhere else,” he said – and University of Maryland shouldn’t assume it will be its Easton hospital. He talked about the need for family members to be present for patients – which the distance to Easton makes problematic.

From the point of view of the bank, Wilson said, the health of the community is vital to the health of the bank and its business. “If inpatient beds close, I think this town will wither,” he said. He said the retirement community would not be attracted to a town without health care. And from the point of view of United Way, health care is a crucial element of its fundraising mission. He said the needs the charity addresses won’t diminish, but its ability to raise fund would be curtailed if the community begins to lose residents. “I believe the state, as the major funder of the University of Maryland Medical System, also has an obligation to the vitality of this town, and certainly the health care.”

Kevin Brien, a Washington College professor, said he was two days out of the hospital, and he characterized the care he received as “absolutely wonderful.” He said he would have to leave the community if the hospital leaves. He said he had interviewed many prospective faculty members for the college, and they invariably asked about the quality of medical care. He also said the black community needs a hospital close by.

Al Hammond, who said he had run a health care system in India, said the continuation of an inpatient facility in Chestertown should not be the only goal of the community. He said preventive care and maintenance of chronic disease are also important, and they happen in the home and the community rather than in hospitals. He said a focus on wellness, diet, behaviors, prevention and early diagnosis was necessary to the health of the whole community. Those services can be delivered at the patient’s home by paramedical personnel equipped with tablets, providing health care at much lower cost, as he saw in India, he said.  “That kind of preventative care ought to be in our sights,” he said.

Bob Parks, executive director of Horizons, addressed the health care needs of the most vulnerable segment of the community. He said all the issues being considered are much more severe for the “underprivileged, underserved” portion of the county, and he urged the commission to consider their situation.

A woman from Rock Hall said she sees a lot of people who need help. She said the lack of nearby specialists is a particularly pressing problem, giving the example of a diabetic woman who had to be put in the hospital because there was no other way to get her seen by a qualified doctor. “That’s a waste of healthcare dollars,” she said.

Another resident said the loss of a maternity ward was a concern. She told of a young woman she knew who had to deliver her baby on the way to Easton. “That was horrendous; the baby could have died,” she said.

At the end of the session, Steffen asked the audience about the availability of services including medical specialists, nursing home services, assisted living, and access to home health services. Among the needs mentioned were endocrinologists, urologists, pulmonary specialists, and mental health specialists including psychiatrists and psychologists. Steffen said the latter specialties were a problem all across the shore, a problem compounded by the reluctance of insurance to cover mental health services.

Audience members also addressed the need for nurse practitioners to supplement the number of doctors in the community, and the inability of people without internet service to access telemedicine. Also, Steffen said, people need to trust the ability of EMS volunteers to diagnose them – “it’s better to call an ambulance than to try to guess what treatment you need if you’re having a heart attack.”

Steffen said the next public hearing would be in Dorchester County June 1, and asked audience members to let friends in that area know of the opportunity to have their concerns heard.

 

Tea Party Highlights

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It’s Tea Party time in Chestertown, as the community prepares for the 2017 edition of its annual Spring festival this coming weekend, May 26-28.

According to legend, in 1774 a group of local patriots boarded a British merchant ship, the Geddes, and threw its load of tea into the Chester River, to protest British taxes and oppression of the colonies. Did it really happen? Nobody has ever found real proof. But the Tea Party festival remains one of Chestertown’s top attractions, celebrating over three centuries of history with pageantry, music, arts and crafts, good food and drink and a wealth of enjoyable events for all ages.

For the Tea Party Festival, the town puts its best foot forward while recognizing its Colonial history. At the same time, the festival is an important fundraiser for local nonprofits, many of whom operate food concessions at Fountain Park.

The celebration kicks off with a street party at the foot of High Street from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. The party features food from local food trucks and beer and wine available for purchase. There will be music by Dell Foxx as well as children’s activities and face painting.

Saturday begins with the Tea Party Classic Run, starting at 8 a.m in Wilmer Park; shuttle service from the Radcliffe Creek School parking area begins at  6:30.

The full slate of festival activities begins at 9 a.m., at which point the downtown area — between Maple Avenue and Cannon Street, from Mill and Spring streets to the waterfront – will be closed to traffic. There will be shuttle buses from designated parking areas beginning at 8 a.m.  High Street will be lined with vendors offering an array of goods and various organizations promoting their causes.

Saturday’s highlights include the Colonial Parade, beginning at 10 a.m. It proceeds down High Street to the main stage under the Stam Hall clock tower. Marching units, bands, historic re-enactors, floats and other participants vie for prizes, awarded by a panel of judges drawn from around the county. This year, Tom Yeager, whose mellifluous voice has announced many a Tea Party parade, joins the parade as grand marshal.

The Tea Party re-enactment is scheduled for 1 p.m on High Street near the main stage. Costumed “patriots” assemble to protest British attacks on American freedoms. The group then marches down High Street to the river where they row out to schooner Sultana to throw bales of “tea” overboard.  The re-enactment remains the centerpiece of the festival, and a great lesson in American history for young visitors.

 

An open rehearsal of the re-enactment will take place at the pocket park next to 107 S. Cross St. This will be an opportunity in a quieter setting to hear what 18th-century patriots and loyalists had to say about taxation, representation, and democracy. This should offer a better view of the re-enactment for younger visitors.

History is on display at the expanded Colonial Village, located on the grounds of the Kent County Court House. The attractions include the campsites of several colonial regiments, a working blacksmith shop and a demonstration of colonial food and cooking. Also, the historic Charles Sumner GAR post at 206 S. Queen St., will be open for visitors throughout the day.

Added to the mix is a wealth of entertainment. Visitors will hear bagpipers, traditional gospel, bluegrass, 18th-century dance music, brass bands and much more. There are also storytellers, dancers, puppeteers, Colonial drill teams, and lots more – let your eyes and ears guide you to  the sights and sounds. A special attraction this year is Benjamin Franklin, as portrayed by actor Brian Patrick Mulligan. He appears at the Garfield Center at 11 a.m. and again at the Colonial Village at 1 p.m.

For refreshments, your best bet is the food vendors around Fountain Park, featuring a variety of tasty offerings from local churches and nonprofits. There will also be a beer and wine village behind the Custom House, near the foot of High Street by the river.

Visitors can take a walking tour of historic Chestertown, led by docents from the Historical Society of Kent County. And Chestertown’s tall ship, schooner Sultana, will offer public sails – call 410-778-5954 for reservations (required). For younger visitors, KidSPOT at RiverArts (315 High Street) will offer colonial crafts, games, and activities from 9 am until noon.

Sunday’s highlight is the Tea Party Raft Race, in which homemade vessels vie for a number of prizes.  The action is frantic, often hilarious – and the rafts have to be seen to be believed. The race is at the Wilmer Park waterfront, beginning at 2 p.m. – but get there early to get a good spot to view the action.

Sunday also features craft beer and wine tasting in Wilmer Park, plus a full schedule of music, walking tours of Chestertown and public sails on schooner Sultana.

See the complete, updated schedule of Tea Party activities here.

 

Mid-Shore History: Thinking of Frederick Douglass at Wye House under the “Witness Trees”

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While there are certainly some very special moments that come with historical discovery for scholars — a rare letter found in an attic or a personal diary uncovered at an antique store — nothing compares to the feeling and emotion that comes with sharing the same habitat as your subject. Whether that be George Washington and Mount Vernon, Thomas Jefferson and Monticello, or Frederick Douglass and the Wye House Plantation, to be able to experience a connection between these American heros and where they lived cannot be beat.

That was certainly clear last Sunday afternoon at the Wye House when the Frederick Douglass Honor Society hosted for four distinguished historians to discuss one of America’s greatest social reformers under that Douglass had called the “witness trees” of Wye House. Professors David Blight from Yale, Dale Glenwood Green from Morgan State, Hari Jones from the American Civil War Freedom Foundation and Museum and John Stauffer from Harvard all spoke of the importance that Wye played in Douglass’ writing and mission in life.

The Spy was able to collect a few segments from each speaker.

This video is approximately eight minutes in length. For more information about the Frederick Douglass Honor Society please go here.

Let’s Tea Party! By Jamie Kirkpatrick

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There’s much to celebrate in Chestertown at this time of year. Spring has sprung; the college just graduated another class; downtown businesses are thriving, the arts are vibrant, and the real estate market is picking up. And then there’s tea, as in TEA PARTY WEEKEND! Hold on to your tricornered hats!

Boston’s Tea Party may be a bit more famous, but ours is, well, ours alone. It all began back in May of 1773 Parliament slapped a tax on tea with the royal assent of King George III. It didn’t take long for the economics of surplus supplies of English tea and colonial politics to collide head-on because at least in theory, British subjects (and we still were) could not be taxed without their consent; remember “no taxation without representation?” Trouble was brewing, so to speak.

A few months later, in November and December of 1773, three ships—the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver—arrived in Boston harbor loaded with tea. A group of angry patriots possibly led by brewmaster Samuel Adams and known as the Sons of Liberty disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians, boarded the ships, and proceeded to toss 342 chests of tea—more than 92,000 pounds which today would be worth about $2 million!—belonging to the British East India Company into the water. Needless to say, Mad King George was less than pleased; he closed Boston harbor and Parliament passed a new set of laws known as the Intolerable Acts which were viewed on the this side of the pond as gross violations of constitutional rights and American colonial charters. We were in hot water, so to speak.

Six months later, the brigantine Geddes arrived at the Chestertown wharf with a load of fine English tea on board. Not to be outdone by their Massachusetts brethren, the local chapter of the Sons of Liberty published a list of grievances now known as the Chestertown Resolves in the Maryland Gazette essentially making it unlawful to buy, sell, or drink English tea. But down at Worrell’s Tavern, published Resolves seemed downright insufficient and on May 23, 1774, undisguised and in broad daylight, our own Sons of Liberty boldly boarded the Geddes and dumped her cargo into the Chester. We’ve been partying on Memorial Day weekend ever since, or at least since 1976 when Tea Party Weekend became an official event on the town calendar.

Tea Party is by far the biggest weekend of the town’s year. There are craftsmen and vendors, food tastings and beer, road races, parades (of course), Redcoats and colonial militia firing rifles, fifes and drums and bagpipers, and all manner of period attire and manners. On Saturday, the tea party reenactment always draws a big crowd with Sultana playing the part of the Geddes. (Sadly, a couple of years ago, liability laws precluded throwing actual people overboard so these days a dummy gets dunked with the tea.) Sunday’s main attraction is the annual raft race, a creative and competitive celebration of almost anything that floats, as long as its powered by humans. Don’t miss it!

We may be a small town, but we’re proud, we have a big heart, and we’re steeped in history. So to speak.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A new collection of essays titled “Musing Right Along” will be released in June. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Mid-Shore Health Futures: How Our Regional Hospitals Measure Up

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Susan Coe was in search of cottage cheese.

The chief experience officer and senior vice president at University of Maryland’s Shore Regional Health was looking in on a new patient at UM Medical Center at Easton. The patient, she learned, wanted her cottage cheese not in a small compartment on a tray but on a plate.

“She had her heart set on the platter,” Coe said.

The nurse immediately called food services to make the change but Coe said she decided to go get the plate of cottage cheese herself.

“It’s about respecting the patient,” she said.

That attention to patient satisfaction is part of a major change in hospitals, including at Shore Regional Health. Before 2007, hospitals largely measured their success by looking at “hard” data that evaluate patient safety and outcomes for specific procedures or events, such as heart attacks or infections. But in the past decade, the federal government began requiring that hospitals also measure how satisfied patients are with their care. Each hospital patient is given a 27-question survey that asks a range of questions, from how well the doctors and nurses communicated, to how noisy and clean the hospital was, to whether the patient would recommend the hospital to a friend.

And Shore Regional Health didn’t like what it was seeing, at least in one area.

Robert Carroll, regional director performance measurement & improvement, said that for the last eight quarters patient satisfaction ratings had been declining at the Easton and Dorchester facilities (considered one entity in ratings) and at its Chestertown hospital. The latest published data, from April 2015 to the end of March 2016, show that the Shore Regional Health hospitals score below average in patient satisfaction nationally and statewide. This is the despite the fact that the hospitals scored average or above average in most of its quality and safety ratings both statewide and nationally.

By contrast, the latest data show that Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis and Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury rate better than average statewide and nationally in patient satisfaction. Peninsula also scored better than average in quality and patient safety ratings statewide and nationally. And Anne Arundel rated better than average nationally in quality and a safety, while it rated average statewide. In Maryland, consumers can go online to get information on safety, quality and satisfaction ratings at the Maryland Health Care Commission website (http://healthcarequality.mhcc.maryland.gov).

In December, Shore Regional Health launched a program called HEART to change patients’ perception of their care. And that, Coe said, required that caregivers consciously reconnect with what brought them into health care in the first place. “It’s about empathy, communication and connection,” Coe said. “It’s listening, watching, understanding.”

In the first phase of the program, 25 peer counsellors were trained. From January through March, those counsellors then led three-hour sessions among Shore Regional Health’s more than 2,000 employees. The focus, Coe said, was on helping caregivers see the hospital experience through the patient’s eyes.

“Every patient is reluctant to enter the hospital,” said Trena Williamson, regional director of communications and marketing at Shore Regional Health. “But for the medical staff, this is their normal.”

A new mother with a sick baby might see things differently than a veteran nurse with other, sicker patients, Williamson said. The HEART program helps staff “recalibrate” so as to see the situation from the patient’s perspective, she said.

Coe said patient satisfaction surveys are helpful but it is the comments that are most useful.

“The scores give us a number but the comments give us gifts of insight and direction,” she said. “We really look at comments– and we follow up.”

Keeping a patient-centered focus is “baked into the culture” at Anne Arundel Medical Center, where about 10 percent of hospital patients and 1 in 5 office visitors are from the Eastern Shore, said Maulik Joshi, executive vice president of integrated care delivery and chief operating officer.

Joshi said new hires are made based on their willingness not only to deliver the best medical care but also to make sure patients feel a personal connection.

“We own ‘I care’ behavior,” he said. “I—I sit down and talk with a patient at the beside; C—I connect with patients by smiling and saying hello; A—I answer quickly when someone has a question; R—I always tell everyone my role; and E—I always escort people.”

At Peninsula, the team approach and employees who live in the community and have worked many years at the hospital are key to both a high quality of care and patients’ happiness, said Sheri Matter, the hospital’s vice president of patient services.

Nurses and doctors together visit the patient to ensure everyone—including the patient—understands the plan of care, both in the hospital and when the patient goes home, she said.

And, she said, there is a “direct correlation” between patient satisfaction and “higher quality outcomes.”

“You have to listen,” she said.

Coe, at Shore Regional Health, would agree.

There, HEART has entered Phase 2: coaching and helping hospital staff put the program into practice. After that, “we’ll expand, go deeper,” she said.

In the meantime, Carroll said he is not worried about the ratings.

“We’re doing this because it’s a better way to do it,” he said. “The numbers will take care of themselves.”

The Regional Overview

If you have a heart attack, bicycle accident or need knee surgery, it’s useful to know how your hospital rates in quality of care, safety, and patient satisfaction.

Thanks to a growing trend in healthcare that looks at outcomes instead of just treatments, many government and private groups collect and disseminate data on hospitals’ performance. The information includes everything from specific comparisons about the likelihood of getting a hospital-acquired infection to how quiet the hospital corridors are at night. Hospitals are graded on these benchmarks and can be compared across a state or against a neighboring state.

In Maryland, which has a unique arrangement with the federal government for hospital reimbursements, consumers can go to a state website to see how their hospitals compare on many of these milestones.

The Maryland Health Care Commission, an independent agency, has an online consumer guide that can help answer many of your questions:

Sources: Shore Regional Health; Peninsula Regional Medical Center; Anne Arundel Medical Center

For example, you can use the website to look at a combined quality and safety score for every hospital in the state. Most hospitals in the state rank average on combined quality and safety compared with other Maryland hospitals, including the University of Maryland Shore Medical Centers at Easton, Chestertown and Dorchester. The only ones listed as better than average statewide are Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, and the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson. Anne Arundel Medical Center, rated average statewide, is among 21 Maryland hospitals rated better than average compared with hospitals nationwide.

Much of the data come from the federal government, through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The federal site also has its own hospital comparison tools. You can also go directly to the centers’ site: Medicare.gov. The direct link to the hospital compare site is found here.

Using that site, you can find and compare hospitals across the nation and check them out against the ones in your own backyard.

With all the information that is collected, using the sites can be a little daunting. But there is a way to cut through the clutter to find what you’re looking for.

Start out with the overall ratings to see how the hospitals stack up

Zero in on areas that align with your procedure–for example, maternity care or orthopedic surgery.

Look at the patient satisfaction measures, which tell you things like how well the hospital staff communicates with patients about the discharge instructions, prescriptions, etc.

If you have to go to the emergency room, there’s also information on how quickly you’ll get attention from the medical staff. Easton, Chestertown and Peninsula hospitals were rated better than average in six measures for how quickly emergency room patients were handled compared with other hospitals in the state. Anne Arundel was below average in four of the six measures.

 

Spy Contributor Robert Tiernan was managing editor of Consumer Reports from 2006 to 2015. Spy Contributor Ridgely Ochs covered health care, personal health and medicine for more than 20 years at Newsday on Long Island. They both now live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Christine Lagarde at WC Commencement: What Comes Next?

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Editor’s Note: Christine Lagarde, the International Monetary Fund’s Managing Director was Washington College’s Commencement speaker on Saturday for its 234th graduation ceremony. Here is her remarks in their entirety.

Thank you, President Bair, for your very kind introduction.

Your leadership of this school – especially your commitment to alleviate the burden of student debt – is a model for higher education. You are a trailblazer in your own right, and your passion for Washington College is inspiring.

President Bair, Board of Visitors & Governors, faculty, and administration, thank you for this honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. I am proud to be your most recent alumna!
Graduates – it is a privilege to be here with you, the class of 2017!

To your families, your friends, your professors – congratulations. No student can get here on his or her own. This is your moment to celebrate as well.
I would like to begin by posing a question.

Has anyone here seen or listened to the Broadway show Hamilton?

As a former Finance Minister, the idea of a musical focused on the life of a Treasury Secretary is appealing to me. I hope this is the start of a global trend!
In the musical, a question is asked that seems particularly appropriate to raise at graduation. In one scene, King George quizzes General Washington right after the end of the Revolutionary War – and sings these lines…

Don’t worry! I will not sing them! But I may ask WACapella for some help.

So, the King sings:

‘What comes next? / You’ve been freed / Do you know how hard it is to lead ?’ [1]

It is an intriguing question – What comes next?

I imagine that from the time you were young, just like my two sons, you were asked some version of ‘What comes next?’

When you are in middle school, people ask if you are excited to start high school.

In high school, people – and by people, I mean your parents’ friends – ask what college you will attend and what your major will be?

In college, other people – usually your boyfriend or girlfriend’s parents – ask what job you will have when you graduate – or, perhaps, if you will go on to grad school?
If so, what school? Law, medicine, business? Trust me, the questions do not go away.

1. Saying ‘I Don’t Know’

We are all asked the difficult question of ‘What comes next’ at various stages in our lives.

What I would like to suggest to you today – and I will share a little of my own story to illustrate the point – is that it is ok, in fact it is often wise, to say ‘I don’t know’ when someone asks you, ‘What comes next?’

Saying ‘I don’t know’ is one of the hardest things to do in life. At the IMF, my team never wants to tell me they do not know – although I can tell if they are guessing!
We have all been trained from a young age to have an answer at the ready. But the reality is that the answer is not what matters most – it is knowing how to find the answer that is key.
Your education – this wonderful, complex, classical, liberal arts training – has given you the foundation you need to begin to solve the puzzle of ‘What comes next?’
In what ways?

The first is your skills – your academic experience has taught you how to think critically. It has opened your eyes to fields of study you might never have otherwise explored and to diverse voices whose opinions will help shape your world view.

The second is your values – your time at Washington College, and the legacy of Washington himself, have instilled in you the importance of public service, of serving others before serving yourself.

Finding the way to apply your skills, and keep them in line with your values, is the question in front of you. And if you can answer that question, you will have also begun to answer the question of ‘What comes next?’

2. Your Skills – Learning How to Think

First, your skills. You have surely heard the critique of a liberal arts background; that the training does not prepare you for the ‘real’ world, where a student educated in engineering and coding is far more desirable than one who can recite Aeschylus from memory.

As the child of a classics teacher, I take some personal offense. As a lawyer, who now leads the International Monetary Fund, I can tell you this criticism misreads the evolution of the economic landscape.

The future, your future, is one where technology, automation, and artificial intelligence may eventually supplant humans in a variety of tasks – from retinal scan payment systems to machine-made hearts and lungs to, one day, perhaps, even robot lawyers. Of course, some say lawyers are robots already – but that is a different conversation!

Two-thirds of today’s children will have jobs which have not been invented yet. [2]Studying Aeschylus, not to mention a little Sappho, Brontë, and Dylan – while cultivating an interest in design – is what allowed Steve Jobs to see the Walkman and dream of the iPod. This renaissance education is your comparative advantage in the years ahead.

Many of the founders of this country, who were lawyers, businessmen, and farmers by training, could also recite orations from Pericles by heart. Those polymath skills not only gave their revolution historical context, it informed the society they hoped to build.

Your school embodies their vision and has instilled in you a love of knowledge. Success for your generation requires a commitment to life-long learning and an understanding that today is a milestone in your education, but it is not the end.

The truth is that college has taught you how to learn, not what to learn. Many of the most valuable lessons have come from outside the classroom. You have done more during your four years than study music, history, theater, literature, and science.

And no, I am not just talking about the ‘War on the Shore.’

I am talking about developing empathy and perspective. These are the in-demand tools of the future. And Washington College has trained you well.

In your four years, you have shared late nights at the Miller Library and long weekends by the Chester River. In those moments, I hope you have had your ideas questioned by your peers and gained insight from their life experience.

There is an old proverb: ‘ Only a fool wants to hear the echo of his own voice.’

Remember that maxim as you go forward into your first job or on to graduate school. If everyone in a room agrees with you, you might be doing something wrong. Seek out those who disagree with you, learn from them, and try to understand their world view.

When I was 17 years old, I left France, my home, as part of a scholarship program designed to bring people from different backgrounds together. I attended Holton-Arms School in Maryland. To be completely candid, it was a bit of a culture shock for me. But I learned more about France in my first year in America than I had learned in sixteen years of studying French history and literature.

I had to step away to gain perspective. I interned on the Hill, answering phones, opening mail, and translating correspondence for constituents who spoke French. Every now and then I felt a bit like Tocqueville – an intrigued French observer of American democracy.

I realized that, to help someone solve a problem, you must understand how she sees a problem. I took that lesson with me – from my practice as a lawyer to serving in the French government.
It is a perspective that I brought with me to the IMF, where our 189 member nations are united by the idea that through cooperation we can maintain economic stability and prosperity for the world.

Needless to say, my career didn’t prepare me for every aspect of this position. Nearly every day on the job, there is something new. A new crisis, a new acronym, a new ‘on the one-hand, on the other other-hand…’

I almost feel as if I am back in law school – I read all the time, ask questions, challenge assumptions – and learn.

As Abigail Adams once said, ‘ Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence .’ Learning does not stop at commencement, it begins anew, and requires a ceaseless curiosity about the world.

This is the gift of your college education, and this is the training which will pay dividends throughout your life.

3. Your Values – Public Service

And yet, the training by itself is not enough. How will you use your training?

This brings me to my second point: values, and specifically the value of public service.

Public service comes in all shapes and sizes. It encompasses far more than working in government. It might mean volunteering, community activism, or joining a parent-teacher association.
Public service is about applying your values no matter what job you have. For me, one of those values has been gender equality. It is something that I have fought for my entire life.
Okay, another question. How many of you have gone on a job interview recently? That’s good – I hope it went well! I am sure your parents hope so too.

So, I will tell you my own first job interview story.

When I was coming out of law school I interviewed at a law firm in France. The conversation went well but towards the end one of the interviewers told me I could never become a partner at the firm. ‘Why?’ I asked him. ‘Because you are a woman,’ he replied. Well, I walked out of there and never looked back.

And then, what did I do? Believe it or not, I asked myself, ‘What comes next?’

I took a deep breath. I thought about my training as a lawyer and about my values. I was determined not to let this experience hold me back. But I was also under no illusion about how difficult the journey would be.

Eventually, I found a law firm that promoted diversity and creativity. I joined Baker McKenzie in 1981. Later in my career, I changed my working hours so I could have Wednesday afternoons off to spend more time with my son.

At first, it did not go over well with some of the partners. But the partners adapted. I became a partner myself. The culture shifted. In 1999, I had the honor of becoming the first female chairman of the firm.

But what was true in 1981 is unfortunately still true today. In many countries, women are either prevented from entering the workforce through legal restrictions, or they are discouraged from working by expensive childcare and inadequate maternity leave. I asked myself, what role could the IMF play in helping solve the problem?

At the Fund, we see ourselves as firefighters – providing financial assistance in times of need so nations can help their citizens. We also see ourselves as doctors – checking up on countries and guiding them to improve their economic health.

Thinking outside the box, our talented economists began showing member nations that women’s economic empowerment could reduce income inequality and help all businesses succeed.

Progress is slow, but we are making a difference. So far, we have done gender-related work in 22 countries. In our new program with Egypt, for example, we are exploring ways the government can increase funding for public nurseries and improve commuter safety. The goal is to provide women more opportunities to find employment.

I am proud that gender equality is now a mainstream part of IMF analysis and I am grateful for the intelligent, dedicated women and men with whom I have the honor to work every day.
President Bair, I know you share my commitment to gender equality, and it is a part of your life’s work. I was so pleased to learn that Washington College is planning a major celebration to mark the centennial of the passage of the 19 Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in this country.

4. Applying Your Values

This is what I mean when I say you must take your values with you. Whether your career is in the private sector or in government, public service is a calling, not a job description.
By choosing Washington College, each of you has stood up and said that public service is important in your life. The values of this institution come directly from Washington himself; his example serves as the inspiration for your honor code. You have made a promise to help others and now you must follow through.

Think about what matters most to you – is it climate change? Homelessness? Improving education? Whatever it is, fight for it.

· If you are entering investment banking, find out how your company’s philanthropy is being managed.
· If you are trained as a nurse, find out how your hospital assists people in the community without health insurance.
· If you aspire to be a journalist (god bless!), use the power of the pen to investigate how your city is rebuilding its public transportation system.

Do not be surprised when you meet resistance. If you pursue public service with zeal, you will inevitably run into skeptics throughout your professional life.

But, as Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, once said, ‘ I have an almost complete disregard for precedent, and a faith in the possibility of something better .’

The lawyer in me hesitates at Ms. Barton’s disregard for precedent, but the rest of me appreciates her point!

Do not be limited by what has or has not been done before. Become creative champions for your values in ways large and small throughout your career!

Constantly look for opportunities to make progress in every position you hold.
Allow me to give you one minor example, from this speech, actually.

This morning I have referenced the Greek poet Sappho, Charlotte Brontë, Abigail Adams, and Clara Barton.

Having informally surveyed other commencement addresses, I realized that far too many quotes come from famous men, and not nearly enough come from famous women. So, we are beginning to shift the balance today!

You see, you never know when you will find an opportunity to promote the values you believe in.

Conclusion – What Comes Next?

Let me conclude by returning to the music of Hamilton.

Immediately after King George asks ‘What comes next?’ he presses the point by saying:

‘You’re on your own / Awesome / Wow / Do you have a clue what happens now ?’ [3]

Well, Washington and his countrymen were not on their own. And they had an idea about what would happen next. The same is true for you, the students of Washington College.

Remember that you do not have to answer the question of ‘What comes next?’ right away.

Take a breath. Be confident that you have the foundation to find the answer.

Trust that your training and your values – along with the support of your family and friends – will guide you, and serve as a lighthouse in the journey of your life.
That has been true for me, and I trust it will hold true for you.

The Art of the Matter by George Merrill

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My first excursion into art was through photography. I didn’t know then that photography was an art. I just thought it was fun. For over sixty years I’ve accrued hundreds of photographs.

Some, like the accompanying picture, I particularly treasure.

I took it at the Baltimore Museum of Art. A workshop was being offered that day to community children. A good number of children attended, with supervising elders guiding and facilitating the children’s budding efforts to create. The kids were having a grand time.

When I began writing essays later in life, some focused around certain of my pictures. I was sure they had a story to tell me, in the way sculptors believe that, in the stone they are about to carve, there’s something within it yearning to be freed. The sculptor’s task: to give shape to the yearning and thereby liberate it. In whatever artistic medium, the same principle applies; the materials of artistic creation become the expression of things inward and spiritual. Sacraments, like works of art, are defined in this way.

I’m sure this child won’t remember her day at the museum. I remember it vividly. I experienced what legendary French photographer Cartier-Bresson once identified as the “decisive moment.” He describes this as being drawn to a scene in which something fundamental to life is being dramatized right before your eyes. The photographer sees it and he snaps the shutter. A moment – a once and for all – is plucked from the continuum of time to become timeless in the form of a silver-gelatin print, the photograph.

At the museum that day, I sensed that the child painting and I were both engaged in something fundamental to life; the urge to create. I saw in the child, some of the yearning that I, too, have known. She is trying to give her own particular shading, form and color to some matter of the heart that she feels within her. The yearning spurs her on, but offers little specific guidance. She has to find her way. How does she do it? How do any of us engage in the sort of midwifery that facilitates the process of emerging possibilities? Inspiration comes first, encouragement next and then practice. It can be summed up this way: follow your bliss. It’s often first discovered during decisive moments.

The child was totally absorbed in what she was doing. It was all about her, her own inner vision; everyone has an inner vision, but many remain unaware of it. Her expression, as I read it, didn’t have that strained or frantic quality – the kind of hyper-alertness or frantic anticipation that I see in the faces of children on cell phones texting or calling. They are as absorbed on their phones as the child in the museum was in her painting. There is a difference. I believe the child at the easel was more in tune with her inner voice or vision than a child on a cell phone is. Some of her radiance showed it. The energy in texting is primarily outwardly focused, reactive; an artist in the act of creating is both inwardly and outwardly focused at the same time. Maintaining an inner vision while expressing it outwardly by craftsmanship is the practice of an art. It has a meditative character.

Art has many mediums. Art is a process that represents the works and activities resulting from human creative skill and imagination. Einstein formulates the stunning equation E=mc2. While the equation is mathematical, it’s also, at a deeper level, an aesthetic statement. It was created by an inner vision. Einstein first visualized the cosmic dynamism in his imagination before making any of the computations.

This remarkably terse statement of three letters, a number and an equal sign captures the essence of an infinitely stunning and interconnected universe. It’s similar to the way the fourteenth century mystic Julian of Norwich spoke of the hazelnut she once held in her hand. “And in this [God] showed me a little . . . hazelnut, lying in the palm if my hand. And it was as round as any ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding. It was answered generally thus, ‘it is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness.” Good art sees things with the eye of understanding.

Art is an attempt to release the eternity hidden in the grain of sand. It illuminates the nascent grandeur inherent in life’s “little things” that we rarely notice. Art renders them visible for everyone to see. Art keeps truth and its beauty visible saving it from falling to nothing. Art, as the product of our imagination, offers infinite possibilities in the way we see.

One of the rewards of making art is the experience of discovery it offers. I think it’s generally true of the visual and literary arts that what the artist first sets upon to do looks little like the final product. While the essential vision first imagined remains, it gets hewed, tempered, altered, pressed, burnished and polished in all kinds of ways before it takes its final shape.

I do not know what the child was envisioning at the museum that day. I never saw what she finally painted. It was enough that she was trying to claim her vision and give it shape, form and color.

That’s the art of the matter or perhaps more pointedly, the matter of the art.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Profiles in Spirituality: St. Peter and Paul’s Father James Nash

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The idea of being the leader of Saints Peter & Paul Parish could easily strike urbanites as the equivalent of being the classic country priest, whose time is spent leisurely ministering to a small flock of the faithful in a beautiful rural setting. But it didn’t take long for Father James Nash to dispel that myth very quickly from his modest office on Route 50 in Easton when the Spy caught up with him a few weeks ago.

In fact, Father Nash oversees an enterprise that is counted as one of the largest employers in Talbot County and includes an elementary school, high school, and three churches with membership in the thousands. And each week, he not only faces the normal challenges that come with any man of the cloth, but must manage over one hundred employees, fundraise for substantial building projects, and administer a $6 million annual budget during his spare time.

And yet none of this seems to weigh too heavily on the priest who left a successful accounting practice to find his real vocation within the Catholic Church. In our Spy interview, Father Nash talks about the business of St. Peter and Paul, but also about the timeless beauty of his faith, the teachings of Pope Francis, and his humble philosophy of leadership in caring for his parish.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information about Saints Peter and Paul Church and School, please go here.

 

Righter Is Sophie Kerr Winner

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Catalina Righter has won the 2017 Sophie Kerr Prize at Washington College. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the award.

Catalina Righter – winner of 2017 Sophie Kerr Prize at Washington College in Chestertown, MD

Righter is an English major from Manchester, Md., who served as editor-in-chief of the Elm, the student newspaper. Her portfolio combined journalism, a travel essay on New Orleans, and a selection of her poetry.

In addition to editing the student newspaper, Righter was a poetry screener for Cherry Tree, the national literary journal published by the Literary House Press. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the Douglas Cater Society of Junior Fellows, Sigma Tau Delta (the English honor society), and was active in the sailing and dance clubs. After graduation, she plans to look for a newspaper job, she said in an interview with the Spy when she was chosen as a finalist.

Poet Elizabeth Spires announced the award Friday night at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the nation’s largest undergraduate writing award, this year valued at $65,768. The cash award totals more than the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the Penn Faulkner prize combined, according to Professor Kathryn Moncrief, Chair of the English department and Sophie Kerr Curator.

Accepting the award, Righter thanked her family, saying that “that my most true and unwavering sense of self comes from you.” She also thanked her teachers, and her friends and fellow writers, “especially anyone who has trusted me to read a piece of that work.” Finally, she said,  “Thank you for anyone who came today because you love someone enough to tell them to continue to write.”

Catalina Righter rises to accept award as finalists Allison Billmire, Ryan Manning and James P. Mitchell, and Washington College president Sheila Bair applaud.

“Catalina has an eye for finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. She brings to bear on her poems a reporter’s objectivity and a journalist’s sense of what makes a story both memorable and beautiful,” said James Hall, Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House.

“Catalina’s writing evinces her remarkable ability to capture both the outrageous and the mundane, and to find surprising humor and beauty in both,” said Moncrief.

The ceremony, which drew a large crowd to the college’s Hotchkiss Recital Hall, showcased the five finalists reading from their work, which covered a range from poetry to political commentary.  (See more photos below article.)

Catalina Righter accepts Sophie Kerr Prize. Poet Elizabeth Spires looks on.

Spires, a faculty member at Goucher College, began her teaching career at Washington College in 1981. In a speech preceding the announcement, she reminisced about her days at the college, with memories of fellow faculty members Bob Day and Bennett Lamond, and offered advice to the finalists. Among her tips were learning from rejection slips and resisting the temptation to lose themselves in the online world.

Sophie Kerr Vanilla Cupcakes served at the reception following the award ceremony.

The Sophie Kerr award is named for a popular writer of the early 20th century, Eastern Shore native Sophie Kerr, who published 23 novels, hundreds of short stories, and even a cookbook. When she died at 85 years old, she bequeathed the College a half-million-dollar trust fund, stipulating that half of the annual earnings go to a graduating senior who shows the most promise for future literary endeavor. The other half funds student scholarships, visiting writers and scholars, and library books.

 

Catalina (3rd from left) with friends at reception after the presentation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prof James Allen Hall Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House.) Catalina Righter, Prof. Kate Moncrief, chair of English Dept and Curator for Sophie Kerr Prize)

Edible Coffee Cups – Dark Chocolate with Mocha Mousse, Whipped Cream, and Raspberry