Project Reports

Fight today for a better tomorrow

 

 

Summer 2021 Third Federal Ethics Fellowship at

invest in children logo

Feyi Rufai

The purpose of my fellowship was to help the Cuyahoga Office of Early Childhood and Invest in Children organize the racial justice components of proposals from Pre-Kindergarten programs. Contrary to the preschool systems that I grew up in, these programs put in a conscious effort to ensure that they are racially equitable. Among the schools, I identified four major themes - training, hiring, programming, and a task force. Many programs ensured that their staff is trained to understand racial differences. They also gave the staff an opportunity to reflect on how they can do better when it comes to recognizing individual differences. Hiring means programs had their staff reflect the community served by advertising open jobs within the community and online. In terms of programming, many programs led community discussions and hosted community events to form a stronger bond with community members. The task force made sure the goals of racial equality were turned into action. Racial justice was also addressed in the school’s curriculum. Schools utilized diverse materials so kids saw themselves represented in class material engendering pride in one’s own culture. Teachers could adapt the curriculum to the uniqueness of each class. To my surprise, the preschools and proposals addressed issues of lead poisoning. It was gratifying to see programs addressing a problem that has plagued the health of those living in Cleveland.  Ultimately, it was wonderful and astonishing how much positive change preschools had made in the short time since I was last there, especially in the disenfranchised county of Cuyahoga. This fellowship allowed me to work hand and hand with the people fighting for racial equality instead of solely learning of the racial injustices today. The fellowship provided me with improved communication and time management skills that I am forever thankful for. 

Fey Rufai

 

Fall 2020/Spring 2021

Mai Segawa

To help introduce children to ethics and living with purpose, we wanted to provide 5 sample ethical values in sticker form: Stay Humble, Always Be Kind, Believe in Yourself, Give Thanks Often, and Make Today Great.

The children are able to choose which intention they want to live their life with. Abstract ethical life values such as respect, kindness, integrity, gratitude, and responsibility are incorporated in these kid friendly stickers.

The idea is to teach children that we must lead with these ethical values in all parts of our lives, in each category, not just one. Thanks to the Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence, I have been able to create an activity for our patients that serves as an introduction to goal setting and personal values.

Annie Du

Annie Du giving

As a volunteer at Give Essential, I facilitated email matches between essential workers and donors. Donors purchase essential items and curate individual care packages for essential workers. The essential items that donors can donate fall within the categories of:

  • Cleaning supplies (ex: disinfectant wipes/disposable gloves/dish soap)
  • Masks (cloth or homemade/face shield/surgical or disposable)
  • Personal hygiene products (ex: soap/lotion/shampoo)
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Kids’ activities (ex: board games/puzzles/electronics)
  • Gift cards (ex: for gas/groceries/restaurants)

I wanted to help alleviate the difficulties families face when they are forced to choose between providing the next meal (as an essential worker) and keeping their family safe. 

Lotus House, Inc. is a women’s shelter located in Miami that shelters over 500 women, youth, and children every night and over 1000 annually. Besides providing a means of housing for these individuals, Lotus House is also committed to advancing the status of women and children by providing multi-faceted comprehensive supportive services, including access to medical and mental health care, parenting education, counseling and parent/child therapy, life skills and educational advancement, job readiness training, and a host of enrichment activities from art and acupuncture to yoga and meditation offering alternative pathways to healing. Their financial transparency, wide expansion of supportive programs, and robust presence in the community solidified our decision to donate essential items to Lotus House.

I wanted to be as mindful as possible towards fulfilling the needs of Lotus House by providing the items they were truly in need of.  I was able to purchase and donate:

  • 20 packs of diapers (1020 diapers total) from ABBY&FINN
  • 24 boxes of pads/liners (228 pads total) from LOLA, and
  • 20 toddler training bundle (toothbrush + toothpaste), 20 fluoride toothpaste (adult), 10 kids’ strawberry toothpaste, 10 toothbrushes from Hello Products

Ethical Consumerism: Ethical consumption is a practice I try to integrate into daily life. During the service project, I strove to be mindful of the types of products I purchased and which retailers or companies I purchased from. I spent a considerable amount of time researching various companies that emphasized a practice of sustainability and advocacy, with a focus on supporting smaller companies.

Grace Zhang

Photo of vice president of communications Grace Zhang

I would like to thank the Inamori Center for Ethics and Excellence for supporting our Phone-A-Friend initiative to support isolated senior citizens in our community. The funding provided by the Inamori Center of Ethics and Excellence supplemented our projects to expand our local chapters and diversity our activities. With this funding, Phone-A-Friend has been able to augment our initial endeavors to provide social relief for the elderly via bi-weekly phone calls, grocery runs, and prescription pick-ups with monthly book clubs, newsletters, and holiday presents.

Grant Activities: In response to state mandates to enforce social distancing, a group of friends and I gathered out of concern for isolated seniors in our community in March 2020. Together, we created the volunteer network, Phone-A-Friend, to provide community-based COVID-19 relief for the elderly. While our origins were humble, in the past ten months, we have been able to expand local chapters and diversify our goals beyond check-in phone calls and grocery runs. Understanding that social isolation and loneliness are associated with premature mortality, our team supplemented our care to include monthly virtual book clubs and weekly newsletters—care that centered on the mental and social wellbeing of the elderly. This past holiday season, we’ve also enhanced our care by providing contactless drop-offs of food kits for Thanksgiving and small presents. Many of our seniors were isolated from their families this past holiday season and Phone-A-Friend wanted the opportunity to bring joy and relief where we could. Caring for our seniors is an increasingly important, albeit overlooked aspect of humanity, and my experiences have prepared me to give hope, empathize with circumstances, and advocate for compassionate care. It’s times like this where I recognize that understanding the pandemic means looking into patients’ eyes just as much as it means looking into microscopes.

Outcomes and Impact: Now nearly a year into the coronavirus pandemic, many of the elderly seniors we converse with weekly have a hard time envisioning a “new normal.” Initially, Phone-A-Friend was established as a relief and empathy system, to assist the vulnerable and socially isolated. Before the disease outbreak, the vast majority of community-dwelling older adults actively participated in social activities. However, due to lockdown policies, many services and programs are no longer available. These restrictions have increased social isolation and the feelings of loneliness of older adults. In the context of COVID-19, social isolation may be especially detrimental to family caregivers being that the majority are older adults themselves and are already at increased risk of stress, anxiety, and depression. Mortality is no longer an abstraction for those who have seen friends and relatives die of COVID-19.

Our initial bi-weekly phone calls to combat social isolation for our community’s elderly quickly expanded to grocery shopping, dog walking, and prescription pick-ups as many of our newfound friends and neighbors revealed fears of catching the virus and plans to follow strict social distancing precautions for the indefinite future. Based on the death certificates of data retrieved and coded by the CDC National Center for Health Statistics, 78% of COVID-19 related deaths in the U.S. occurred among older adults aged 65 and over.[1] These chilling statistics are only amplified by news broadcasting hospital beds, PPE, and ventilator shortages. Together, these aspects of our society are accumulating into a culture of ageism that makes compassion and empathy for our elderly counterparts even more difficult to exercise. Existing stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination based on age enhance existing inequalities and prevent effective countermeasures. Further, the assumption that all older people are frail or dependent is not only inaccurate but also harmful. Hearing the stories and the challenges these seniors have faced and overcame is not only encouraging but inspiring. As a society that has appeared to remove the voices of the aging population, the projects at Phone-A-Friend have continued to reveal to me the intergenerational geriatric ethics issues—how there is still work to be done to remove the effects of agist policies and actions.

Future Plans and Sustainability: As the pandemic rages on, it’s clear that while the virus may not discriminate, societal inequalities—the sturdy pillars of prejudice— lead to differing health access and outcomes. I see the marginalization of the elderly when I offer to make grocery runs on their behalf or use Phone-A-Friend to provide relief for isolated seniors. Today, the world waits for mass vaccine distribution. But a vaccine will not remove institutionalized barriers to health care; the ignorance that funded the disease; nor the inequity against the elderly that our country has amplified and reanimated. We have been witnesses to the appalling effects COVID-19 has had with the deaths of elderly people, in nursing homes and hospices, having been considered “acceptable” losses. The right to health care and dignity should never be in question, and in light of the pandemic, we must find the compassion to invest in our communities.

In Cleveland, we are now instilling a local Phone-A-Friend chapter for the Cleveland community, and my continuing service with the Indianapolis Phone-A-Friend has taught me what works and what still needs work. I hope to also use the lessons I learn this winter to foster dialogue with the rest of the GELS members during general body meetings regarding the value of life, geriatric ethics, and bioethical dilemmas. As the Cleveland Phone-A-Friend arises, I hope to ultimately engage GELS members in the Cleveland Phone-A-Friend as a long term service opportunity to GELS members that will continue after the pandemic is over.

We live in an age and diversifying country where societal barriers limit healthcare access that leads to poor outcomes. Addressing these disparities by improving community health and encouraging education is essential to bettering the future of health and equity. Continuing our space for dialogue and platform for action is what I hope to further at Case Western Reserve University. Here, I am eager to work with like-minded and passionate students from around the world to advance the frontier of ethics. Yet, I also want to set the stage to share difficult conversations about our current healthcare system and the vulnerable populations left behind as our country advances. Now, more than ever, our compassion needs to bridge conflicting perceptions, interpretations, and values to bring people together; we cannot enjoy the luxury of opinion without the responsibility of reflection.


[1] Wu, B. Social isolation and loneliness among older adults in the context of COVID-19: a global challenge. glob health res policy 5, 27 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41256-020-00154-3

Salma Shire

Salma Shire

For 25 years, my family — just one family in a vibrant Somali community of 80,000 — has called Columbus home. Both as a student and resident, I've had the privilege to serve this community in the forms of advocacy, research, and clinical service. What I've discovered is the vastly different experiences that individuals from minority and under-resourced backgrounds endure. These preventable differences in health linked to social, economic, and or environmental disadvantages are known as health disparities.

The neighborhoods where I grew up, included families from low-income or financially unstable households, much like my own. This early exposure sparked an interest in health inequity that I had the opportunity to explore as a student scholar for the ASPIRE Medical Research Program at the Ohio State University. During my time in the program, I developed a geographic mapping project that addressed social determinants of health in the zip code regions I lived in. I researched the many factors impacting health in my community, including the high unemployment rate, poverty, infant mortality, the abundance of food deserts, and more. Shaped by my experience identifying health disparities as an undergraduate student, my values compelled me to influence educational inequities that broadly affect the underserved.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to spread around the world, so has the tremendous uncertainty and fear concerning the origins, treatments, and prevention methods regarding COVID-19. With three vaccines available in record time, much of the evidence needed to fully inform the public of positive outcomes were unavailable, making COVID-19 uniquely vulnerable to disinformation, misinformation, and medical mistrust (“Disinformation, Misinformation and Inequality-Driven Mistrust in the Time of COVID-19”). Thus, it was essential to raise awareness about the risks of misinformation around COVID-19 (and the vaccines) and encourage healthy practices that follow CDC guidelines to ensure prevention and safety for all.

One gap that stood out during the pandemic was disruption to education systems — this has disproportionately affected students from disadvantaged backgrounds, further exacerbating pre-existing educational inequalities. To alleviate the burden imposed by COVID-19, I coordinated with Case Western Reserve University Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence to donate personal protective equipment, supplies, and clothing to students and faculty at the International Academy of Columbus.

To address the glaring disparity in educational access, I held Health Education Sessions on COVID-19 for middle school students. As a graduate student studying the molecular and cellular basis of diseases, I used my background in the pathophysiology and transmission of the COVID-19 to guide our sessions. Through innovative programming, I was able to deliver a virtual community-oriented curriculum to under-resourced students on COVID-19. Specific topics I covered included the new mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna Medicine, how the mRNA vaccines work (in basic terms), the safety of the vaccines (briefly cover allergic reactions), and common myths about the vaccine.

Additionally, I recognized how the worldwide pandemic could have long-term consequences on mental health, with youth having limited access to recreational activities and social interactions. To tackle this issue, I had middle school and high school students engage in an interactive learning environment consisting of Kahoot questions, friendly competitions (on COVID-19 transmission, prevention, or vaccine), and gifts marking the end of the semester-long program. Through safe practices and factual information, I hope to create a lasting impact on students by positioning them as changemakers in their lives, families, and communities.

Following the educational sessions, I became aware of the socio-economic gaps that exist in Columbus and the state-wide need for accurate COVID-19 information. I plan to integrate this experience into GELS and the CWRU community in the future, by providing similar COVID-19 vaccine educational sessions for vulnerable communities here in the Cleveland area, whether that be virtually or through phone calls. In doing so, I hope to promote ethical leadership by addressing misinformation/mistrust on the COVID-19 virus (and vaccine) and how it leads to health inequity.

To conclude, this pandemic has taught me the role of medicine extends far beyond ER rooms and hospital beds. Understanding the contexts driving disease distribution and burden requires collaboration between policymakers, scientists, educators, and even students. As I work toward my goal of becoming a physician, I hope to continue to broaden my understanding of community concerns and health inequities among marginalized populations. I would like to thank the Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence for providing me with the opportunity and funds to explore ethical challenges through these lenses of health care.