One century after pandemic, conference examines health care, policy issues

April 18, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by Augustana University.

It has been 100 years since the Spanish flu pandemic infected 500 million people, killing as many as 40 million. An estimated one in four Americans were infected during the influenza pandemic, which proved most deadly to people age 20 to 40.

The tragic and historic event creates a framework for examining current health care challenges at this year’s Dakota Conference, convening April 26 and 27 at the Center for Western Studies at Augustana University.

It’s the 51st year for the humanities-based public affairs conference, which has been sponsored by the Center for Western Studies since 1990 and is open to the public.

“We look at something that happened in the past – a trend or theme or event or personage – that relates to the Northern Plains of the Dakotas and contiguous states, and we bring it into the present, taking a look at what’s happened since then and at current issues,” said Harry Thompson, executive director of the Center for Western Studies.

“It gives us a historical touchstone, and then we invite professionals, the public and students to present.”

This year’s theme is particularly timely, both with the centennial anniversary of the Spanish flu and because of more recent disease outbreaks and interest in the health care field, Thompson said.

“People that study pandemics for a living often say we’re due; the human race is due for a major outbreak,” he said. “We’re not trying to scare people, but we do think it’s timely to be learning more about not only topics related to pandemics but health care in general. It’s a topic the vast majority of Americans consider important to them.”

Attendees at the day-and-a-half-long conference will be able to hear from almost 70 presenters representing a half-dozen states.

Dr. Mary Jo Kreitzer, founder and director of the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota, will deliver the keynote address.

A tenured professor in the school of nursing, Kreitzer is the  co-lead of the doctorate of nursing practice program in integrative health and healing. She has served as the principal investigator or co-principal investigator of numerous clinical trials focusing on mindfulness meditation with people who have a chronic disease, including studies focusing on solid organ transplant, cardiovascular disease, chronic insomnia, diabetes and caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Kreitzer will address health, purpose, relationships, community, security and the environment.

“I hope that people come away thinking about their own well-being and what simple things they can do to enhance their personal health and contribute to the welfare of their community,” she said.

“For example, lifestyle behaviors – healthy eating, movement, stress management and sleep – significantly impact health. In the U.S., there is more loneliness than depression. Relationships and not being isolated are key to well-being. Purpose is also very linked; there are studies that people without a sense of purpose are at a 15 percent higher risk of death.”

Her themes easily translate to the work environment, she said.

“There are many studies that show that well-being in the workplace is linked to engagement, turnover and productivity,” Kreitzer said.

“The same six elements can be applied to the work environment – what is overall health, including financial health, is there clarity of purpose, what is the quality of relationships, is there a sense of safety and security, many things to look at in the work environment to support well-being. In health care, there are grave concerns about stress and burnout of health care professionals and a large focus on how can organizations focus on system issues that contribute to stress and burnout and support personal well-being and resilience.”

She also will highlight how South Dakota ranks in the top 10 states for well-being, according to Gallup, and will ask conference participants to reflect on the theme of the event, including how determinants of well-being are similar and different from 1919 to today and what impact well-being and resilience had in surviving the pandemic.

“What are the social, cultural, economic and geographical factors in the Dakotas that contribute to well-being and resilience – historically and in contemporary society?” she asked.

“I hope that people continue to pursue these questions. A big question is always how to leverage strengths and overcome weaknesses and challenges. For example, there are great strengths but also some big challenges, such as the well-being of children and health disparities overall.”

Other presentation topics include everything from the influenza pandemic in fiction and a panel on post-traumatic stress disorder to the healing power of stained glass and therapy dogs.

“Anyone who has an interest in current health topics will find interesting things,” Thompson said.

Celebrated South Dakota nurse Marcella LeBeau, who served as a nurse in World War II as well as on the Cheyenne River Reservation, will be honored with the Western America Award, the highest award from the Center for Western Studies.

“We’ve been fortunate to have her as a presenter at this conference, and she’s received tremendous recognition around the country and elsewhere for her work,” Thompson said. “We’re honored to recognize what she’s done specifically for the Native American people and to thank her for her contributions to our conference.”

To learn more about the Dakota Conference and register for tickets, click here. 

One century after pandemic, conference examines health care, policy issues

The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19 creates a framework for a fascinating event around health care coming up at Augustana University’s Center for Western Studies.

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