Rabbi Mendy Ross of the Chabad Center of Duluth speaks during the “Spiritual Needs at End of Life” breakout session.

Rabbi Mendy Ross of the Chabad Center of Duluth speaks during the “Spiritual Needs at End of Life” breakout session.

As populations around Minnesota and across the country become increasingly diverse, it's important that healthcare providers understand their patients' cultural and spiritual needs. A major conference hosted by St. Scholastica plays a role in that conversation.

On Oct. 24-25, more than 100 people attended the "Whole Person, Whole Community" Culturally and Spiritually Responsive Healthcare Conference, organized by Associate Professor of Global, Cultural and Language Studies Elyse Carter Vosen. The purpose of the event, she said, is to ask difficult questions, seek understanding, and build relationships."There's a positive feeling of energy, humility and inquisitiveness, and expressions of recognizing injustice and calling it out where it is in the system," Carter Vosen said. "There's honesty and openness about the issues and the structural challenges in our system ... that have to do with the care of people's medical, physical and spiritual health in Indigenous communities, immigrant communities, and communities of color."

After attending Thursday night's keynote address on "Advancing Equity by Culturally and Spiritually Transforming Ourselves and the Healthcare System" with Maria Regan Gonzalez, mayor of Richfield, MN, participant Laura Johnson called the conference "life changing."

"I just think it's the tip of the iceberg," she said. "We still have so many things to learn that we can implement into the places that we work, the hospitals, the clinics, to make it better for our patients."

Nathan Johnson was back for his second time at the gathering. The inaugural conference was held in 2016.

"I wanted to come back again just to continue to grow in this area," he said, "and try to see how we can better connect our different cultures within our community here in Duluth."The goal of the conference is to promote physical, mental and spiritual health, while also fostering social equity. Conference speakers included healthcare providers and community leaders from Anishinaabe, African Heritage, Latinx, Somali, Hmong, Jewish, and Muslim communities. 

The conference began Thursday evening with a social gathering followed by Gonzalez' address. The gathering's second day started with a welcome followed by roundtable breakout discussions on a broad range of topics, including cross-cultural perspectives on youth mental and physical health and end-of-life care, trafficking awareness and food access. Friday concluded with a social gathering and keynote address by Sam Grant, community organizer and urban farming expert. He spoke on "Reawakening our Deep Ecological Wisdom Traditions for Community Health in the 21st Century." 

Many healthcare and community organizations and entities across the College came together to make the event possible, Carter Vosen said.