Aging, Cultural Diversity, and End of Life Care

Featured photo by Nani Chavez on Unsplash

“Some of us seem to be on a lifelong quest to tease out potential where others choose not to look.  The approach is simple really – invest time, be present, listen, engage and encourage ownership.  This is true in all facets of life; no more so than in a prison environment.”    

These are the words Kandyce Powell RN, MSN, Executive Director at Maine Hospice Council and Center for End of Life Care, uses to describe the hospice work she does in the Maine State Prison.   Powell was the keynote speaker at UNE School of Social Work’s Spring Social Justice Seminar March 29th.  “Many notable authors have written about the role compassion, caring, respect, and yes, “love”, have played in social change movements and transforming the lives of others,” she says. “This is a story of an eighteen year journey with some remarkable men who are incarcerated at the Maine State Prison.  It’s about uncovering a treasure trove of love, kindness, emotional intelligence and caring where others thought it couldn’t possibly exist.  Then watching what can happen when captured in service to others at end of life.”   

 The Maine Hospice Council has been operating a hospice program at Maine State Prison in partnership with the Prison and the Maine Department of Corrections since 2001.  This partnership has not only provided the Maine State Prison staff  with greater knowledge and sensitivity on issues of grief and loss, but it has also enhanced services for prisoners and provided inmates, themselves, with the opportunity to care for their fellow inmates at the end of their lives.  As the leader of this initiative, Powell spoke at the social justice seminar about her experiences with the program and played audio reflections from inmate volunteers themselves. 

“Listening to the prisoner’s was incredibly powerful,” one of the seminar attendees remarked.  One prisoner, for example, shared that he felt a renewed sense of humanity.  He expressed that spending years in prison can make one feel stripped of humanity and identity altogether and that the meaningful experience of helping another inmate through this difficult time made him feel more human again, gave him a stronger sense of dignity and worth. 

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Powell continues to head the program at Maine State Prison and aims to continue programming for years to come.  To read more visit Maine Hospice Council Website HERE.

Other highlights of the event included a diverse group of panelists that covered topics around aging and cultural diversity.  The panel was developed by MSW TRIAD students and originated from students’ requests to learn about aging from a range of cultural perspectives.   “All of the presenters and panel members spoke with elegance and wisdom.  Much of what was said I found to be inspiring and extremely relevant to us as new and budding social workers soon to be out in the field,” shared one of our MSW students. 

After the morning programming and a break for lunch, the MSW TRIAD (Training in Aging and Diversity) students returned for the final event of the day – an interprofessional simulation with nursing faculty that took place in the Interprofessional Simulation and Innovation Center. The simulation centered around the complexities of working with older adults and families at end-of-life, including engaging in difficult conversations.  The TRIAD grant is funded by HRSA and provides students with $10,000 stipends in their advanced year to advance their knowledge and skills for working with older adults. 

For more info on how you can become a TRIAD student and earn $10,000 toward your MSW CLICK HERE

The day was brimful of inspirational learning and ideas around how to create more compassionate and equitable approaches to working with diverse and vulnerable aging populations. 

“It was a wonderful and powerful seminar and one that will stick with me for years to come.” – UNE TRIAD Student

Photo by Hussain Khalaf