Charles Warren Fairbanks Center for Medical Ethics to Benefit from Major Gift

Jan 03, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS – The Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation has made a grant of $5.4 million through the Methodist Health Foundation to the Charles Warren Fairbanks Center for Medical Ethics (FCME) at Clarian Health. The endowment grant will be used to provide ongoing support for key senior faculty and administrative positions at the Center. These positions are responsible for the Center’s most important programs in Nursing Ethics and Clinical Ethics Fellowship programs.

Established in 2002 with a grant from the Fairbanks Foundation as a living memorial to the life and work of Charles Warren Fairbanks, FCME’s central mission is to improve the ethical lives of interdisciplinary health care professionals, including physicians, nurses, social workers and chaplains, through service, education and applied research.  Under the leadership of Director Paul Helft, M.D., the Center’s strategy for future development is to build upon the momentum that has been created by its most important personnel and programs.

Core Personnel Growth

Fairbanks Foundation endowment funding will be used for ongoing support of key Center positions, including the director position held by Dr. Helft and the associate fellowship director position, which is currently held by Alexia Torke, M.D. She is responsible for curriculum development and evaluation, mentoring fellows in their ethics research and service projects, and evaluating the overall impact of the program on the participants, the hospital system and the larger medical ethics community.

Additionally, endowment income will help fund the development of senior affiliate faculty positions, including that of Sandra Petronio, Ph.D., an internationally known expert in privacy and communication. She will lead a developing program in ethics and communication and will contribute to research activities for Fairbanks Fellows and faculty.

Fairbanks Program in Nursing Ethics

This initiative strengthens ethics resources for the more than 5,500 nurses who work at Methodist Hospital and Clarian Health. It focuses particular attention on the system’s intensive care units, where severe illness and high-tech medical care often raise important ethical questions for hospital staff, patients and families. 

Through staff education, consultation support and research, the Fairbanks Program in Nursing Ethics improves the capacity of Clarian’s nurses to manage ethical conflict and emotional distress which can result from carrying out a plan of care that contradicts their deeply held beliefs about what is in the best interest of the patient. The Center believes that helping nurses manage this distress will significantly enhance patient care. 

The Fairbanks Center and the Methodist Health Foundation will use the Fairbanks Foundation endowment gift to fund ongoing program leadership costs for activities that link stakeholder interests of the Center, Indiana University School of Nursing and Clarian nurses.

Fairbanks Fellowship in Clinical Ethics

The Fairbanks Fellowship is unique among ethics programs for both its focus on ethics in the clinical setting and for its interdisciplinary nature, which is based on the precept that those who work together in patient care should also be trained in clinical ethics together.  Fellowship classes over the past three years have included physicians, nurses (advanced practice nurses, bedside clinical nurses without advanced degrees, and one who holds a Ph.D. in nursing), a social worker, and a chaplain.  Having multiple voices at the table allows every participant to gain a new perspective on ethical dilemmas, and keeps the learning focused on how ethical decisions are actually made in the “real world” clinical setting. 

The Fellowship provides broad education in clinical ethics, as well as specific and focused training in clinical ethics consultation.  In addition, each fellow develops a research, educational, or quality improvement project in ethics during the course of the year.  To date, 10 fellows have completed the program and six are currently enrolled.

According to Dr. Helft, the grant from the Fairbanks Foundation is empowering. He says, “We believe the Center is uniquely prepared to accomplish our mission, because of our history of shaping interdisciplinary approaches to difficult problems in medical ethics, especially in clinical settings.” He adds, “The Fairbanks Foundation and Methodist Health Foundation truly understand and appreciate the imperative to ensure the ongoing integration of the study and application of ethics practices into clinical settings to improve the quality of patient care around the world.” 

Methodist Health Foundation President Betty Stilwell says, “We are deeply grateful to the Fairbanks Foundation for their extraordinary commitment to the Fairbanks Center, first at its genesis and now as it takes next steps as an international leader in its field.”  She continues, “The magnitude of the Fairbanks gift will have a transformative impact on Methodist Hospital, where critical illness and injury and high-tech medical care often raise important ethical questions for staff, patients and families.”