Out and About (Sort of): Free Press Fights On by Howard Freedlander

We Americans like to commemorate public anniversaries of the ending of wars, assassinations of presidents and transformative leaders, passage of momentous federal legislation and, of course, the founding of our nation. These events of reverence and recognition give us a sense of place in our country, defining who we are, through whom, and what we honor and cherish.

As a former journalist and devout believer in the freedom of press as expressed in the First Amendment of our U.S. Constitution, I felt touched when reading about the first anniversary on June 28 of the gruesome murder of four journalists and an advertising assistant at the Annapolis Capital Gazette. A memorial garden was dedicated 11 days ago at Acton’s Cove Waterfront Park in Annapolis.

Family members, Capital employees and public figures attended the morning ceremony. On the same day, a moment of silence was observed at the time of the attack at 2:33 p.m. in the offices of the Capital, Baltimore Sun (part of the same media group as the Capital) and throughout the country.

The accused perpetrator of the worst attack on a newspaper in U.S. history will be tried on murder and other charges. He is pleading not criminally responsible. He had held a grudge against the newspaper for writing about a legal proceeding charging him with criminal harassment of a woman.

At a time when media outlets have come under unrelenting bombast by President Trump, characterized by him as the “enemy of the people,” I believe just the opposite. The media protects us from corruption and self-dealing in government, churches, military, corporations and every aspect of American life. It provides valuable information and insight that allow all citizens to feel part of their communities. 

It represents the basic infrastructure for sustaining our freedom. 

Unlike Russia and China, our news flows uncensored and uncontrolled. Consequently, news coverage of government leaders may be unflattering and disturbing. Truth remains the ideal; it triumphs over misinformation and manipulation.

Of course, inherent in the gathering of news and accurate reporting, the media—print and electronic—can be intrusive and bothersome. Good reporters, whether armed with a pen and pencil or a camera, are trained to “get the story and get it right,” often irritating the source. 

The obligation of a media professional is to compose and produce a balanced piece of journalism.

“Balance” can be in the eyes of the beholder, or in many cases the subject of the coverage, as well as the public. What I think is balanced and fair may and does differ from someone either invested in the story, or reading/ watching it with a different point of view.

The scene in the Capital newsroom on June 28, 2018 was horrific. Yet, the staff still produced a newspaper that day. They did so while in shock. In the weeks and months following the senseless mayhem, reporters from newspapers throughout the country took leaves of absence from their normal jobs to help the Capital continue to serve the community.

In recounting yet another mass shooting in our nation, this one in a newsroom in a city known to many Spy readers, filled with followers of the First Amendment, I hark back to my unshakeable faith in the American press. I realize it’s less than perfect. Its practitioners may be careless at times. Bias on the news pages and daily broadcasts may be avoidable.

In 1823, Thomas Jefferson wrote his French friend, Marquis de Lafayette: “The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary to keep the waters pure.”

Ironically, this American icon was often subject to the whims and wiles of a free, unfettered press.

Some anniversaries are bittersweet. Tragedy often underscores them. The five Annapolis Capital Gazette employees murdered senselessly deserve our heartfelt memorialization. A rose garden planted in their memory in an Annapolis park reminds us of the perils of a free press.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

 

Out and About (Sort of): 1968 and 2019 – Parallel Universes by Howard Freedlander

Think back to July 4, 1968 and celebration of Independence Day in a nation severely divided by the Vietnam War and disrupted by the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.  Glee and pride were in short supply.

By the end of summer 1968, according to Smithsonian.com, 53 percent of Americans opposed the Vietnam War, while 35 percent supported it. Times were tense in America.

Now, nearly 51 years later, as we approach our 243rd birthday, our country is polarized and paralyzed by partisan politics. Civility has suffered. Friendships have ruptured. Compromise has become a mostly unattainable ideal in our U.S. Congress. Our president does little, if anything, to heal and unite.

In a Pew Research Center poll released more than three months ago, 60 percent of respondents believe that the United States will be less important in the world over the next 30 years, while 31 percent opine that the U.S. will be more important. Sixty-five percent believe that the country will be more politically divided; 26 percent think it will be less politically divided.

As was the case in 1968, our national fabric is badly frayed. Pessimism is on the rise, as illustrated in the just-cited figures.

According to the Pew research, “the majority of Americans have little confidence that the federal government and their elected officials are up to meeting the major challenges that lie ahead…when asked what impact the federal government will have on finding solutions to the country’s future problems, more say that Washington will have a negative impact than a positive one (55% vs. 44%).”

Optimism must experience a resurgence and overcome our current malaise.

Income equality must be addressed to reduce, if possible, the widening gap between the haves and have-nots. Capitalism, coupled with a buoyant though fractious democracy, must remain strong and thriving.

Police brutality, tainted by racism, must be minimized. Public trust in our law enforcement agencies needs an urgent boost.

Immigrants must feel welcomed and treated humanely. Lawful entry into our country is critical, but so is flexibility and compassion.

Climate change cannot be disregarded or derided. Scientific evidence is abundant as violent changes in climate, such as increased heat, deadly fires and more frequent storm surges, roil our nation and world. Human behavior must change in reducing the production of carbon dioxide and consequent global warming.

Our young nation is strong and resilient. It has withstood a Civil War in the mid-1800s, a Depression in the 1930s, racial riots in the 1960s, political turbulence at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and a recession in 2007-2009. 

Without an upsurge in hope and comity, we will face continued degradation of our national soul and ability to forge solutions to complex, gnawing problems, The partisan pendulum must right itself.

Like others who view our country’s future with alarm, I believe that leadership is an inextricable part of the answer to bridging the socioeconomic gap so prevalent in American society. In small and large ways during my life on our sometimes unsettled earth, I’ve seen the impact of a determined, visionary, compassionate and effective leader. I’ve seen where dissonant factions can be encouraged and prodded into committing to a common good. 

It’s never easy. Formerly rigid ways of behaving undergo change, albeit painfully.

Independence Day fireworks illuminate the excitement and value of living in a country known for its moral authority. They bring wonder to the young and old. They fill our communities with joy and togetherness. Barriers diminish briefly.

We recovered from the tumult and social upheaval in the 1960s. We overcame social and political divisions, though remnants remain. We can do the same now. We need leaders on the local, state and federal levels to call for the best of us and display open-mindedness and tolerance.

Is it possible? I hope so.

Is it just a dream that dissipates in the light of day? I hope not.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

 

Out and About (Sort of): Healthcare in Our Backyard by Howard Freedlander

As controversy has roiled the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), headquartered in Baltimore, over self-dealing contracts awarded volunteer board members, I believe that the time has come for the members of the Talbot County Council, Easton Town Council and other local and county governments to seek a frank, no-spin briefing by UMMS Shore Regional Health (SRH) operating in Easton, Cambridge, Chestertown, Queenstown and Denton, not only about board ethics, but also the state of healthcare in our backyard.

All of us have benefitted from the care and treatment offered by SRH. We are fortunate to have access to good medical care in a rural area. While SRH may be the first stop in receiving more sophisticated medical treatment elsewhere–be it Annapolis, Baltimore, Washington or Philadelphia– it fulfills a critical, if not urgent need. SRH’s predecessor, Memorial Hospital in Easton, was a godsend for many of us and our families.

Life on the Mid-Shore is better because of SRH. 

My basic concern is whether SRH can achieve excellence as a regional hospital. It might be a difficult task in the shadow of world-class hospitals in Baltimore and Washington. It may be impossible to avoid being a way station for patients eager to seek top-level care at research institutions, such as Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and the University of Maryland Medical Center, both 65 miles away in Baltimore.

The quest for medical prominence must remain a worthy goal. After talking with Eva Smorzanuik, a retired Easton radiologist, I am concerned about SRH. She said that as revenues have risen for UMMS, “Shore facilities have faced almost annual budget cuts, constriction of services, layoffs, and a frustrating work environment.”

In light of the revelations in recent months about UMMS procurement procedures and the culture of awarding sole-source contracts to board members, I urge county and town council members to act now in querying public officials about a health system that holds the key to the climate of health care in Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties. Further, I recommend that political leaders seek guidance on the right questions to ask and concerns to express.

Are decisions made at the corporate level sensibly applicable and useful to Shore Regional Health? Is staff morale suitable for providing quality and compassionate care? Is there a person, perhaps an ethicist, employed to offer advice on medical and business matters? What do surveys reveal about customer satisfaction? 

What is the process to recruit new doctors and nursing professionals? What new specialties are being offered? Does SRH survey medical professionals about their relationships with each other and administrative staff?

Another question strikes me as especially pertinent: how specifically has the merger in 2006 between Memorial Hospital and UMMS benefitted the delivery of health care in our area? Is it measurable?

Tough, probing questions need not be threatening. They may be useful in yielding answers that lead to straightforward communication and upgraded medical services. 

Like many, my family and I have felt more secure knowing that good regional medical care is accessible and generally helpful. We are thankful for a hospital system in our backyard (even within walking distance),

I believe that the delivery of medical treatment in the Mid-Shore area faces a future filled with improvement. Its patients demand it. 

Joint sessions of county and town governments might be a perfect forum for a hearty discussion, with the public invited, on the state of health care in our region.

Save the Date invitations should go out now. 

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

 

Out and About (Sort of): Shamelessly Ignored by Howard Freedlander

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s decision to delay the placement of Harriet Tubman–an American hero and Dorchester County native who led hundreds of slaves to safety through the Underground Railroad–on the $20 bill represents a shameless decision by the Trump Administration to disregard a courageous woman and African-American icon.

Mnuchin claimed it was more important to redesign the $10 and $50 bills first for security reasons, to prevent counterfeiting. The Tubman redesign, already moving toward completion, according to news accounts, was slated to appear in 2020, the 100th anniversary of suffrage. Her image was to replace President Andrew Jackson’s.

Tubman would have become the first woman on American paper currency.

Combating what he considers “political correctness” has become the battle cry for Trump. It underscores the president’s reluctance to condemn the white supremacists who protested in Charlottesville VA in August 2017, leaving one woman, a bystander, dead in the confrontation.

While some may argue that an image on a $1 or $5 or $10 or $20 or $50 bill makes no difference when you’re reaching into your wallet to buy groceries or a beverage in a convenience store, I believe that symbolism is important. It projects not only an image of a hero or a nation-founder–but highlights what we Americans consider as cherished values we wish to honor.

For example, the image of Abraham Lincoln on the well-used $5 bill reflects what he meant in preserving our united country when it was falling apart and fracturing itself over slavery and state’s rights during a disastrous Civil War. His political resilience and strong resolve enabled him to withstand personal attacks, Union defeats early-on and an unconscionable war on our own turf.

Gracing our ubiquitous $1 bill, George Washington represented our young nation’s character and gumption in rebelling against British rule and establishing a country free to determine its own future. He embodied integrity and common sense.

Harriet Tubman should be on the $20 bill. Now.

The decision to delay a redesign to 2026 or 2028 once his boss is out of office—assuming he wins reelection in 2020—smacks of cynical decision-making. He wanted to avoid a temper tantrum by his boss in the White House. He wanted to deflect criticism by Trump’s conservative base against what it might consider undue political correctness.

Trump’s fondness for the populist Jackson is well-known. A slave owner, Jackson was responsible too for the 1830 Indian Removal Act, which pushed more than 60,000 Native Americans from their lands and onto the infamous Trail of Tears.

Tubman continually risked her life to lead slaves to freedom, to shake the yoke of oppression. She freed herself in 1849. Over 11 years she helped hundreds gain their independence from bondage.

During the Civil War, she was a Union spy whose most notable achievement was the liberation of 756 people in one day in a raid on the Combahee River in South Carolina that destroyed four of the Confederacy’s most successful plantations and resulted in recruiting more than 200 black men into the army.

Though we have become accustomed to Trump’s decisions that forsake decency and compassion, I find the delay for seven to nine years of placement of Tubman’s image on the $20 bill an appalling insult to women and the African-American community.

Slavery is an indelible stain on our national legacy. Recognition of Harriet Tubman, who freed herself and then hundreds of others from the physical and mental imprisonment of slavery on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, would place an uneducated, determined black woman in the pantheon of American heroes. She belongs there.

Mnuchin’s decision was disgraceful. Unfortunately, it wasn’t surprising.

Embrace of our “better angels” is an elusive quality in the Trump Administration.

 

Out and About (Sort of): Ethics on the Edge by Howard Freedlander

After revelations in recent months of gross ethical lapses by board members at the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), eliciting strong condemnation by the governor and legislative leaders, the system has instituted a new conflict-of-interest policy that doesn’t go far enough in eliminating potential corruption.

This policy, effective July 1, is to be adopted at each of UMMS’ more than dozen affiliates, including Shore Medical Center in Easton and its components in Chestertown and Cambridge. I believe that ethical urgency demands immediate adoption.

According to May 31, 2019 issue of The Baltimore Sun, the new policy forbids sole source (single bid) contracts to board members or their businesses. In addition, the policy blocks the board’s chair, the chairs of the governance and its audit and compliance committees, as well as close family members of those three leaders, from having any contracts with the system. The policy specifies rules for how board members must disclose conflicts of interest.

Had I the authority to write a policy, I would have forbidden any contracts involving board members and their families. I’m keenly aware that such a restriction would constrict business options. I also realize that the new policy provides a process for determining if contracts held by board members are appropriate, and whether there are other options that preclude a potential conflict.

Why do I feel so strongly?

The culture of self-dealing by UMMS board members went on too long. Board members’ companies were enriched by their volunteer service in the form of lucrative, sole-source contracts. When this mess materialized in the media, the lid blew off; nine members were cited repeatedly in news reports, including John Dillon, former chairman of the board of Shore Medical Center and an UMMS board member.

Trust is transitory. Once shredded, it is tough to restore. Service on a non-profit has no financial rewards; no benefit should be expected, except a sense of service.

Conflict of interest is clear indeed; if in doubt, don’t. If necessary, a board member should resign if personal or professional interest is preeminent. Why risk your reputation, as did nine members of the UMMS board who either resigned or were forced to do so? Why would anyone, if retention of personal integrity were not important enough to inform consideration of a questionable action, tempt media coverage and public criticism?

Sole-source contracts are inherently anti-competitive. In state government, single-bid contracts must be justified; familiarity between the procurement agency and a vendor is insufficient to justify a contract award.

UMMS, though independent, receives millions of public dollars. It should protect the public trust—even if the process takes longer and seems bureaucratic.

I mentioned that the new policy specifically bars the audit committee chair and close family members from holding any contracts with the system. The now-resigned chair, Robert Pevenstein, and his son had several contracts with the system under the old rules.

While I suspect that former board members’ businesses may have performed competently in their contracts with UMMS, I believe the perception—or “optics”—generates mistrust and criticism. Rightly so. In the investment world, it might be characterized as insider trading.

As noted in other columns, I have served on several non-profit boards since retiring more than eight years ago. They too must operate without a scintilla of conflict of interest in awarding contracts and making daily decisions. The case can be made that donors expect their contributions to be spent wisely and ethically.

In terms of a hospital, trust in an institution translates into trust in its medical care. Without the latter, the former cannot function effectively.

UMMS interim CEO John Ashworth is working feverishly to change the culture. Leaders of the 13 affiliates must do the same.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

 

Out and About (Sort of): Anguishing Anniversary by Howard Freedlander

I’ve walked the bluff-framed beach twice. I’ve noted its serenity. The tranquility is jarring.

I’ve looked up at the bluffs and marveled at their majesty, as well as the fatal weapons fire that once emanated from them.

I’ve somberly walked the American cemetery atop the bluffs and viewed the more than 9,300 marble crosses and Stars of David situated in a beautifully manicured setting.

The violence of yesteryear permeates my conscience. I am dumbstruck by the shear bravery exhibited during an amphibious invasion such as the world had never witnessed.

In two days, on June 6, the 75th anniversary of the D-Day assault in Normandy, France will dominate worldwide media attention. It will describe the incredible effort of the Allied forces to break the grip on Europe of Germany’s Nazi regime and its soulless leader, Adolf Hitler.

My focus today is entirely on Omaha Beach (Vierville-sur-Mer), the segment of shoreline that involved thousands of Marylanders in the 29th Infantry Division (Blue and Gray), including citizen-soldiers with roots on the Eastern Shore. Most are dead now.

The number killed, missing or wounded in the 29th Division from ferocious combat on June 6, 1944 was 1,272, including 1,007 in the 116th Infantry Regiment. This unit, primarily comprising former members of the Virginia National Guard, was part of the first wave. Many either didn’t reach the beach or died under the onslaught of horrific gunfire showered upon them by German forces occupying the bluffs.

Though the initial assault and its deadly consequences prompted skepticism from the generals about the eventual success of this crucial invasion, Joe Balkoski, a historian who has written several books about the Normandy combat, drew this conclusion from his extensive research, as noted in Omaha D-Day Beach:

“That the GIs on Omaha Beach did indeed possess the essential fighting skills to save the day has become an elemental moral of American history. No one realized it at the time, particularly the unfortunate men who were subjected to the enemy’s relentless barrage of bullets and shells, but Omaha Beach would become one of those exceptional moments in history when Americans defined themselves by their actions as a people worthy of the principles upon which the nation was founded.”

In 1994, I served as escort officer for Gov. William Donald Schaefer during the 50th anniversary of D-Day. He was the only governor who attended the ceremonies. During World War II, he served as an Army hospital administrator in England, where he saw the personal destruction imposed on D-Day soldiers lucky enough to escape the killing fields, though seriously wounded.

I met a Dr. Harold Baumgartner from Jacksonville, FL during the 50th anniversary activities. Landing in the first wave on Omaha Beach, he was wounded five times in just 32 hours of combat. He told me that his wartime experience motivated him as a doctor to accept whatever a patient could afford, whether it was money or farm commodities. He was determined to pay back for his survival when death was so close to reality.

A truly touching event occurred in St. Lo, a French city and critical transportation hub that prompted a 44-day struggle for dominance by the Allied forces. On a beautiful day in a city where shop owners displayed signs welcoming the “liberators,” 29th Infantry Division veterans, many in their late 70s and early 80s, walked down a major street holding the hands of school children grasping flowers.

Some of the men cried.

Emotional reactions by World War II veterans often bordered on the stoic. Hardened by the Depression in the 1930s and further stiffened by horrific wartime experiences, these men rarely cried in front of family members. Though burdened by memories of lost buddies, they kept their emotions bottled up.

Family members accompanying their fathers and grandfathers saw heartfelt tears for the first time.

In two days when the media reports of soaring language used by public officials at times like this, I believe that the enormity of the D-Day invasion, its human toll and its importance in leading to the eventual defeat of a stubborn enemy led by a crazed dictator should be front and center. The deadly fighting that occurred on a French beach that now seems so peaceful was unforgettable.

War with its set-piece battles had a different face in the 1930s and 1940s than our current acts of random terrorism. Its consequences threatened the stability of the Free World.

Our soldiers turned the tide.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

 

Out and About (Sort of): Paying Homage by Howard Freedlander

Today, as we join friends and families at festive Memorial Day occasions filled with food and fellowship, with American flags and bunting as backdrop, I ask that we visualize someone who touched us and died in combat in a part of the world that heretofore meant nothing to us. That person may be an ancestor, known only through family lore.

Memorial Day forces us to pause every year to think about family members and friends who either did not return from war, or returned maimed either physically or mentally. While I realize that Veterans Day provides an occasion to honor the former military members living among us, I believe we can never express our gratitude enough, not only to those buried in military or private cemeteries— but also to those who served, lost buddies and still cope with wrenching memories and invisible emotional pain.

It’s proper to mourn the loss of innocence and idealism; the burial is internal, the suffering lifelong.

When our precious American flag is given during a funeral service to a spouse as gratitude for service, folded neatly according to tradition, and when taps is played as a mournful farewell, ever so precisely, I feel deeply the loss of a young man or woman. Our nation has always been fortunate to call upon its youth to step forward and face numbing fear and deadly combat.

Words spoken today at ceremonies throughout our nation are often the same: they pay homage to soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and Coast Guard members. They remind us of people who served and died, cutting short the lives of mostly the young. Speakers implore us to feel thankful to the dead and remember they never came home to bands and parades.

A well-known poem, “In Flanders Fields,” written during World War I by a Canadian doctor and lieutenant colonel, John McCrae, in remembrance of lives lost in Flanders, Belgium, poignantly and powerfully calls upon all of us never to forget. It reads as follows:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The dead call out to us to remember, to appreciate the damage wreaked by the violence of war, to understand that the poppies continue to symbolize life and the continued presence of those buried in former killing fields.

The message of war doesn’t fade. Bravery is hallowed. We owe gratitude to those who “Loved and were loved” and now live in cemeteries and in the hearts of friends and family.
The torch is passed.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): Bedside Manner 2.0 by Howard Freedlander

As a columnist, sitting on a pedestal weekly spewing forth brilliant opinions and insights, I realize that sometimes that this writer gets a chance to say “I told you so.” Of course, no one likes a know-it-all. I know I don’t.

So, after the publication two weeks ago of my column citing the efficacy of an empathetic bedside manner and the all too frequent lack of compassion in the medical profession, a friend politely told me that my perspective was mistaken. He said that family members and friends were doctors, and empathy was part of their toolkit. Further, his last words, again spoken in a friendly manner, empathized with my column-producing experiences.

Of course, I tried to write a balanced piece that stated I had had mostly good experiences. Others who approached me related stories of excellent treatment and soulless personal interaction.

As I wrote, some people care little whether a doctor has a pleasing demeanor—only the results matter. I wonder if that’s absolutely true. We all like to be treated with respect. Caring communication enhances treatment and recovery.

As luck would have it, two doctors at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, NJ., one the chief of medicine at Cooper University Health Care (CUHC) and the other a practitioner of emergency medicine and co-president of CUHC, co-authored a Washington Post article (“For patients, a caregiver’s compassion is essential,” May 13, 2019).

Doctors Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli, wrote: “Research shows that there has been an erosion of the relationship between those who provide health care and the patients they treat, and specifically an erosion of compassion. Nearly half of Americans believe the U.S. health-care system and health-care providers are not compassionate, one survey found. Numerous studies have reported that physicians miss the majority of opportunities to respond with compassion.

“Research on the burnout epidemic in health care finds that 35 percent of physicians are so burned out that they have an inability to make a personal connection with patients. This can result in callous or uncaring behavior.”

The purpose of the two-year study was to discern whether compassion (an emotional reaction to an ailment encompassing a desire to help and leading to action) and empathy (the initial thrust to feel and understand a person’s emotions) have scientific and measurable outcomes.

The doctors found “undeniable signals” in their data-gathering that “compassionate care is associated with vast benefits for patients across a wide variety of physical conditions, such as chronic back pain, diabetes and even recovery from the common cold.”

To this increasingly involved pawn in the medical system, the findings make common sense.

A patient’s mental and emotional approach to treatment and adherence to “prescribed medicine” is tied directly to a strong dosage of compassion. A positive attitude—as opposed to anxiety and depression—enables a patient to focus on physical recovery free of psychological duress.

Just last week, my wife and I met with a doctor who seemed to have internalized the value of empathy and compassion. After we explained the impact of my medical condition (I promise I will discuss it in greater detail in a future column) on our lives, she said she could understand our emotional pain. I felt relieved.

The doctor’s human reaction took just seconds. Its value was incalculable. As Trzeciak and Mazzarelli discovered in their research, a sincere expression of compression involves very few words.

Incidentally, the study’s authors found evidence that “compassionate care can be a fulfilling experience for health-care providers that helps build resilience to burnout. In other words, compassion is good for both the giver and the receiver.”

Compassion is not just a creation of social science. Medical data has tied it to the science, not just the art of medicine. It has measurable effects.

And it costs nothing.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of) Family Feeds Land Carefully by Howard Freedlander

 

After often hearing about the innovative Hutchison Brothers farm operation in Cordova, I finally got to meet two of the brothers and one of their sons. I experienced their down-to-earth manner in discussing widely acclaimed success and a sincere, time-proven fealty to improving the land.

Profit is number one, followed closely by environmental sustainability. Simply, the family is quick to use excess funds to adopt creative best management practices to nourish the land and upgrade water quality.

For its environmentally stewardship over the years, often leading the farm industry on the Eastern Shore, Hutchison Brothers is the 2019 recipient of Horn Point Laboratory’s (HPL) Chesapeake Champion for the Environment Award. It will be presented on Thursday, May 30, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., at the Waterfowl Chesapeake Building in Easton.

The seventh annual winner of this honor, Hutchison Brothers Farm, will be the first farmers to receive it. That’s noteworthy.

When I met recently with Bobby Hutchison, his brother Richard and nephew Kyle to write a freelance article for HPL, I found myself impressed by a sophisticated farm operation that is driven to produce better and better yields—naturally so—while equally devoted to conservation.

Nitrogen (fertilizer), as well as phosphorus, have long been considered primary culprits in degrading the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Environmental groups have frequently criticized farmers for their obsession with yields and supposed indifference to the impact of nitrogen on water quality. This criticism would not apply to the Hutchisons.

So what have the Hutchison Brothers done in its usage of nitrogen?

The family, for example, uses of state-of-the-art equipment to allocate fertilizer in a way that discourages excess, using only what is needed in particular fields. Some fields, already richly productive, need less nitrogen than other fields containing poorer soil.

Tom Fisher, an HPL scientist who has worked closely in the past few years with farmers to use best management practices to enhance water quality, said, “Many of the (the Hutchison Brothers’) new ideas are based on putting the right kind of fertilizer on the right place, and the right time that crops need fertilizer. This should be a win-win, reducing farmers’ fertilizer costs, decreasing losses from their farms to nearby streams and improving downstream water quality.”

I’m no farmer. That’s clear. But I understand the decision-making necessary to balance need and soil management. Profit, investment and environmental benefit—this triad requires a tricky thought process.

I’ve attended every Chesapeake Champion celebration. My wife used to work at HPL. Each one is different and impressive. Recipients–from restaurant owners committed to farm-to-table ingredients to landowners who have established wildlife refuges, to a longtime volunteer and leader in a local environmental organization, to a creator of an unusual and well-respected inventory of Maryland plants and fauna—have made a substantial commitment to preservation of our area’s rural character.

The Hutchison Brothers bring another dimension to the constellation of Chesapeake Champions. Yes, they love their 3,400 acres, Yes, they love being a successful farm operation. And, notably, they have combined pursuit of high yields with consistent land stewardship

Farming is a serious business subject to the vagaries of the weather and international market conditions. It requires skill in planting, marketing and cost control. It requires risk and flexibility. It requires humility and perseverance.

When the Hutchison Brothers receive the Chesapeake Champion award, they surely will feel proud. They also will believe that their focus on financial success and environmental stewardship is feasible.

Out and About (Sort of): Bedside Manner by Howard Freedlander

For the past eight months, I’ve had cause to visit several medical offices (will explain in another column) in Easton, Annapolis and Baltimore, spending time with numerous doctors, nurses and office staff.

I’ve become keenly attuned to “bedside manner,” both good and bad. I suspect this term is well-understood. For those of us caught in the throes of the medical system, I’m referring to the communication skills, or lack thereof of medical professionals. Also, ability to communicate includes personal warmth and empathy—or (here I go again) lack thereof.

In recent months, a local doctor, a likable, personable and capable person, said to me, “You know, they didn’t teach bedside manner in medical school.”

He added, “I think it’s important as a doctor to treat someone in the same way I would want my father or mother treated.”

Think about these comments, as I have. It’s almost inconceivable—except it isn’t—that medical schools apparently pay little or no attention to the emotional treatment of patients. I’ve always understood that physical recovery is tied directly to emotional well-being.

Regarding medical school instruction on bedside manner, I have two thoughts. First, why is it necessary to teach what common sense demands? I’m bewildered. If folks dealing with a medical problem, alleviated by just plain, down-home human communication and feeling, can improve their outlook and prognosis for recovery, then it is reasonable to expect a mixture of science and sensitivity to confront a medical ailment and achieve a successful outcome.

Second, if medical school administrators have access to credible studies linking clinical treatment and sincere empathy, then why would there be any hesitation to include “bedside manner” as a compulsory subject? Does it seem too wishy-washy, too unscientific?

Now, before readers think I’m whining about poor medical treatment and communication, I am not. I’ve been mostly fortunate. The medical industry must satisfy Herculean pleas for help in a short time frame. Each of us considers our pain or discomfort to be greater than anyone else’s. We want immediate, full-throated attention.

While I admire a professional clinical approach, I also value people skills, to include sincere listening and even a sense of humor. I’m aware that many people are content with superior clinical skills; a doctor’s personality is irrelevant.

Having successful surgery or procedure outweigh the need for a personable surgeon. All that matters is dealing with, or overcoming a medical crisis. This reasoning makes complete sense. A physician’s charm is just an extra, superfluous ingredient.

But I’m not convinced. Trust requires a dollop of humanity. Even a sprinkle of extroversion. To the point made by a local physician, I suggest that treatment should be geared to imagining that a patient is your father or mother.

My preference, however unrealistic at times, is skill coupled with an approachable, if not pleasing demeanor. Questions need to be asked. Human nature calls for answers. Straightforward, patient responses enhance recovery and promote a positive attitude. Anxiety diminishes.

I think I’ve kicked this horse enough. It’s time to conclude this column.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

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