Renowned surgeon, author, public health researcher and Athens, Ohio, native Atul Gawande, M.D., has won widespread recognition for transforming the national conversation on aging and end-of-life choices. On Monday, Sept. 25, people from the Athens area will have a chance to hear him speak on the importance of community and choice in the lives of seniors, via a webinar broadcast nationally to selected sites, including the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine at Athens.
The event, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by the Athens Village, a local nonprofit for people over 60. Additional sponsorship comes from the Heritage College Department of Family Medicine; the Ohio Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute (OMNI); Interim HealthCare, a Florida-based firm offering home care, hospice and health care staffing services; and Liberty Mobility Now, a company providing rural and small-urban personal transportation services.
Gawande, who has written articles for Slate and The New Yorker, as well as successful books including “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End,” will be speaking to more than 150 of the 350-plus senior “Villages” now open or in development across the United States. For the first part of the program, Gawande will be interviewed by a reporter in Boston on the topic, “ Being Mortal ’s Villages: The Value of Community and Choice as We Grow Older.” He will then answer some audience questions that have been submitted prior to the broadcast to BHV15the@beaconhillvillage.org.
Susan Gilfert, administrative assistant for the Athens Village, said the simulcast from Boston had originally been scheduled for February, and was to be hosted in Athens by OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital. After a massive New England snowstorm scotched those plans at the last minute, it was rescheduled for its current date, when the O’Bleness viewing facilities were not available. The Heritage College then stepped up to provide its Irvine Hall auditorium.
“I am so grateful to Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine for offering this facility,” Gilfert said.
Tracy Shaub, D.O., chair of the Heritage College Department of Family Medicine, said Gawande’s thoughts on aging speak to her strongly.
“I think Dr. Gawande’s work is critically important,” Shaub said. “I do palliative care myself, and I’m a geriatrician, so I’m well-acquainted with his work in this field. The chance to sponsor this was just a great opportunity.”
OMNI Executive Director Brian Clark, Ph.D., said sponsoring Gawande’s simulcast was likewise a natural fit for the Institute, which has an ongoing collaborative relationship with the Athens Village through OMNI’s Healthy Aging Research Division. “Dr. Gawande’s work has obvious relevance to health and aging, so it seemed like a very appropriate thing for us to sponsor,” he said.
Gilfert said Gawande’s message also has a close affinity with the guiding tenets of the Village network.
“His philosophy of paying attention, and honoring the commitment that people have given to their community, to themselves and to each other, definitely has to do with community support, and that’s what the Village movement is all about – it’s members helping members and being aware,” she said.
The local simulcast will take place from 5 to 6 p.m. in 199 Irvine Hall, followed by an hour-long reception and opportunity for informal discussion on The Bricks in Irvine. For those with limited mobility, an alternate, accessible viewing site will be in Grosvenor 113.
Parking around the Ohio University Convocation Center is free and open to the public after 5 p.m. But because the simulcast begins promptly at 5 p.m., Liberty Mobility Now will run shuttles between the ACEnet parking lot at 94 Columbus Road in Athens and Irvine Hall starting at 4 p.m. before the webinar, then afterwards from 6 to 8 p.m. Parking at ACEnet is always free.
The Village movement is a growing worldwide initiative that works to empower older people to make their own decisions about how they choose to live as they age. It dates from 2002, when its founders created a “virtual village” in Boston’s Beacon Hill to afford people over 50 this sort of empowerment. Dr. Gawande’s simulcast is part of a 15-year anniversary celebration for the movement.
Gilfert said the Athens Village is the same sort of virtual community, rather than a physical facility; for a small annual fee, it provides its members with a variety of support services in their homes, such as access to a maintenance person. It was started in 2009 by Margaret and Norman Cohn of Athens, both now deceased. Margaret Cohn had been a longtime dean of OHIO’s Honors Tutorial College, while Norman Cohn had been a distinguished professor emeritus of environmental and plant biology at the university. From an initial membership of seven, it has grown to around 100 members.
The terms of the agreement allowing Dr. Gawande’s talk to be simulcast to the Heritage College, Athens, do not allow for any further internal sharing of the broadcast with other sites, such as the Dublin or Cleveland campuses. Also, the webinar will not be recorded for future viewing.
Those with questions about the Sept. 25 event can contact Gilfert at 740.447.0500 or TheAthensVillage@gmail.com.