Several factors—including a growing senior population, increased interest in and use of hospice care, a growing number of palliative care programs nationwide, and growing use of advance care planning—are fueling the nation’s need for appropriately-trained hospice and palliative care professionals. There is an existing gap between the number of health professionals with palliative care training and the number required to meet the needs of the expanding population of patients with serious illness or multiple chronic conditions. Palliative care is an approach to care that utilizes an interdisciplinary model and aims to optimize quality of life and mitigate suffering among individuals with serious, complex illness.
Please send an email to your United States Senators to express the need for greater improvements to our public health infrastructure and more training for the health care and public health workforce, especially in the area of palliative care. You can find a sample email here.
The Sisters of Charity Health System stands with the Catholic Health Association of the United States and the other members of the Patient Quality of Life Coalition (PQLC) in requesting the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee consider including the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA), S. 2080 in the 116th Congress, in upcoming workforce legislation.
The PQLC was established to advance the interests of patients and families facing serious illness. The coalition includes over 40 organizations dedicated to improving quality of care and quality of life for all patients from pediatrics to geriatrics, as well as supporting public policies that improve and expand access to quality palliative care and appropriate pain management. PQLC members represent patients, caregivers, health professionals, and health care systems.
The HELP Committee has announced the beginning of bipartisan discussions to support, update, and expand workforce training programs, and has called for proposals including those in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic and the workforce needs of the health care and public health sectors. The need for palliative care education and training among those on the front lines is urgent. We have an existing shortage that patients, families, and health care providers are now feeling as systems have become overwhelmed as a result of the pandemic. It is important that we alleviate these stresses, as this pandemic will have lasting impacts on the palliative care and hospice workforce. We also must invest in building the public health infrastructure and workforce now to address these shortages in the unfortunate event of another pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a bright light on the existing palliative care workforce shortage and amplified the need for our nation’s health care workforce – beyond those who will specialize in the field – to have training in basic palliative care to ensure all patients facing serious illness or at the end of life can receive high-quality care.
The Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA), S. 2080 in the 116th Congress, would provide assistance in addressing the palliative care workforce shortage and help respond to COVID-19 and future pandemics.
Palliative care is specialized care that focuses on preventing and treating the debilitating effects of serious illness, with clinicians trained to assess and manage physical, psychological, and other sources of suffering. This includes relieving pain and other distressing symptoms, such as shortness of breath or unrelenting nausea. Palliative care seeks to anticipate, prevent, and treat physical, emotional, social, and spiritual suffering, as well as to help facilitate and support the goals and values of patients. This education is urgent for the health professionals who do not have palliative care training but are on the front lines of caring for individuals infected with diseases like COVID-19 and facing life and death decisions
Training in palliative care also focuses on learning how to have detailed and skilled communication with patients and families to elicit goals and preferences. In the midst of a pandemic like COVID-19, this knowledge is essential.
The CARES Act (PL 116-136) recognized the importance of addressing health professional training and included the reauthorization of the Title VII health professions programs, the Title VIII nursing programs, and the geriatric training programs. PCHETA will work to address the critical shortage of health professionals with knowledge and skills in palliative care that can no longer be ignored. PCHETA is designed to build the evidence base for serious illness care and to educate all who care for patients like those now flooding our nation’s emergency departments, hospitals, and ICUs. PCHETA will not only help strengthen the palliative care workforce but also help ensure that, going forward, patients and providers are aware of the benefits of palliative care. According to the Institute of Medicine, there is a “need for better understanding of the role of palliative care among both the public and professionals across the continuum of care.”
Congress has long worked on a bipartisan basis to support and advance PCHETA. The House has passed it twice with overwhelming support. S. 2080 was cosponsored by 58 bipartisan senators in the previous Congressional session and is supported by more than 50 national organizations and 35 state organizations. There is no better time than now for Congress to demonstrate its commitment to ensuring all Americans facing serious or life-threatening illness can receive high-quality care and to providing our health care professionals with what they need to meet this pandemic moment, and ones sure to come.
Please reach out to your senators today. A sample letter (email) for you to send is available here on e-Advocacy.
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