Guest Opinions

Measure could ease critical hospice-worker shortage

As the Baby Boomer generation ages, the need for compassionate, person- and family-centered care for individuals facing advanced and life-limiting illness will only continue to rise.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is in the unique position to support increased education for hospice and palliative caregivers throughout Washington, by moving the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA) forward in the Senate.

Hospice and palliative care are successful interdisciplinary, coordinated care models that provide not only expert medical care, but comprehensive pain management, emotional and spiritual support, and family services.

Nearly 25,000 Medicare beneficiaries in the state of Washington receive hospice and palliative care, and those numbers are only climbing. As executive director of a community based, nonprofit hospice organization in the Tri Cities, I have seen the demand grow in our community and know that we cannot continue to provide this needed care for patients and families without more hospice care professionals like myself.

According to the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, a significant shortage of trained hospice or palliative care providers exists throughout the country. A 2017 study by the George Washington University Healthcare Institute estimates that there will be no more than 1 percent growth in the palliative care and hospice physician workforce in the next 20 years, while the number of people eligible for palliative care will increase by more than 20 percent.

Senate passage of PCHETA — with the help of Sen. Murray’s backing as ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — will make a significant difference in the lives of those needing hospice care in our state.

This bi-partisan, bi-cameral supported legislation will establish a program to enable hospice and palliative physicians to train teams of interdisciplinary healthcare professionals in palliative and hospice care techniques. In addition, PCHETA expands the types of professionals trained to provide hospice care to include nurses and clinical social workers.

Nearly 2,000 Washingtonians are employed providing hospice care, but more are needed to keep up with growing demand. If passed, PCHETA includes valuable workforce training provisions to help our state meet the growing need for quality care for vulnerable individuals at the end of life. We're counting on Sen. Murray and her history as a champion of workforce development and skills training for support that would be in line with her continued efforts to keep our state’s workforce strong.

Palliative care provides patients facing serious illness relief from pain, symptoms and mental stress. The New England Journal of Medicine published a study in 2010 citing that patients who received palliative care quickly after a diagnosis experienced less frequent depression and had a better quality of life than others who did not receive palliative care.

Hospice and palliative care professionals in Washington also consistently provide emotional and spiritual support and family services like respite care and bereavement counseling. Forty-two percent of the Medicare deaths in the state happen under hospice care. These patients and their families rely on a supportive and dignified end of life hospice provides.

The House recently passed this important bill, and it’s time for the Senate to do the same. On behalf of those who need this type of care and their families, as well as the hard-working Washingtonians who provide compassionate care every day, I respectfully encourage Sen. Murray to support this legislation and work with her colleagues to move this bill through the Senate.

Gary Castillo is Executive Director of Chaplaincy Health Care in the Tri-Cities.