Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA) aims to address critical healthcare workforce shortage

CHICAGO, July 11, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Congress can take steps to help build a healthcare workforce more closely aligned with America’s evolving healthcare needs by passing the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA), according to the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM). AAHPM worked to develop the bill introduced in Congress today by U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV). PCHETA aims to address the large gap between the number of health care professionals with palliative care training and the number required to meet the needs of the expanding population of people with serious illness, along with their families and caregivers.

The U. S. Census Bureau projects that the population aged 65 and over will approximate 83.7 million by 2050, almost double that in 2012. The need for palliative care is escalating as the population ages and an increasing number of people are living with serious, complex and chronic illness. Many of the problems of our healthcare system – high costs, overutilization, lack of coordination, preventable transitions between healthcare institutions, and poor quality – become particularly evident during extended chronic and serious illness.

The public health emergency (PHE) created by the coronavirus and continuing impact of “long COVID” has only exacerbated the need for knowledge and skills in serious illness care, putting a spotlight on an already existing palliative care workforce shortage and the importance of providing better training to all healthcare providers who will be called upon to care for the seriously ill.

Further, there is a need to not only grow but to diversity the palliative care and hospice workforce, given documented disparities in access to palliative and end-of-life care among those who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (these populations are often diagnosed with late-stage illness and have inferior outcomes likely leading to increased suffering), as well as in rural and low-income communities.

Providing more training and incentives to teach and practice palliative and hospice care would mean fewer people suffering from the symptoms, stress and pain of serious illnesses.

Palliative care focuses on improving a person’s quality of life by managing pain and other distressing symptoms of a serious illness, and hospice provides this care for those near the end of life. In practice, this involves detailed and skilled communication with patients and families/caregivers to create goals and determine preferences, as well as expert assessment and management of physical, psychological and other sources of suffering across the multiple settings that patients traverse through the course of a serious illness.

Palliative care is often thought of as end-of-life care, or hospice care, which is a specific type of palliative care. In fact, palliative care is beneficial for people of any age facing serious illness − such as cancer, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kidney disease, or Alzheimer’s disease − and can be provided at any stage of illness and along with curative or life-prolonging treatment. Palliative care physicians, nurses and other skilled professionals work as part of the patient’s medical team. 

An expanding body of medical research has documented the benefits of high-quality palliative and hospice care for patients and families, for hospitals and payers, and for the health care system as a whole. Palliative care is associated with enhanced quality of life for patients, higher rates of patient and family satisfaction with medical care, reduced hospital expenditures and lengths of stay, and other positive outcomes – including longer patient survival time. However, delivery of high-quality palliative and hospice care cannot take place without a sufficient number of health care professionals with appropriate training and skills.

Despite the growing need for palliative care, the U.S. is currently unable to meet patient and health system demand because of a significant shortage of trained providers and insufficient numbers of faculty to train the next generation of these providers.

“As we face a critical shortage of health professionals with knowledge and skills in palliative care, AAHPM applauds Senators Baldwin and Capito for their leadership in introducing the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act to ensure all patients facing serious illness or at the end of life can receive high-quality care,” said Holly Yang, MD HMDC FACP FAAHPM President of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. “We urge Congress to recognize the importance of a well-trained, interprofessional healthcare team to providing coordinated, person-centered serious illness care. Advancing PCHETA will go a long way towards improving quality of care and quality of life for our nation’s sickest and most vulnerable patients, along with their families and caregivers.”

PCHETA would address the palliative care workforce shortage by establishing new Palliative Care and Hospice Education Programs for the training of interdisciplinary health professionals in palliative care, as well as academic career awards and career incentive awards for physicians, nurses, physician assistants, social workers, and other health professionals. These programs would support the training and retraining of faculty; provide students with clinical training in appropriate sites of care; and provide training to integrate palliative and hospice care into primary and specialty care practices.

PCHETA also would implement an awareness campaign, to inform patients and healthcare providers about the benefits of palliative care and hospice and the services available to support individuals with serious illness, as well as direct existing federal funds toward palliative care research to strengthen clinical practice and healthcare delivery. (Access a bill summary.)

“After having served as my grandmother’s primary caregiver, I know the difference quality palliative and hospice care can make for a loved one who is battling a serious illness,” said Senator Baldwin. “Our bipartisan Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act will make an overdue investment in education and research to ensure doctors, nurses, and health care professionals have the tools they need as they work tirelessly to keep patients with serious or life-threatening illnesses comfortable and safe. This legislation will help more Americans get the training they need to provide palliative care, help strengthen our health care workforce, and also ensure those with serious illness get the care they deserve.”

“The need for high quality palliative and hospice care services—which are vital for patients and their families—continues to grow, making passage of our bill needed now more than ever,” Senator Capito said. “As a caregiver for parents that suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, I saw firsthand just how valuable these services can be. In order to preserve access to this care, our bill would strengthen training and education opportunities for individuals working in these fields. I look forward to working with Senator Baldwin and my colleagues in the Senate to pass this legislation.”

PCHETA has passed in the U.S. House of Representatives twice (as H.R. 647 in 116th Congress and H.R. 1676 in 115th Congress) and enjoys broad support from over 50 national and 35 state organizations. Along with AAHPM, leading organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Catholic Health Association of the United States, and National Alliance for Caregiving are working to build support for the bill.

The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM) is the professional organization for physicians specializing in hospice and palliative medicine (HPM), as well as nurses, social workers, and other health and spiritual care practitioners committed to improving quality of life for the expanding and diverse population of people facing serious illness, as well as their families and caregivers. For more than 30 years, AAHPM has been dedicated to ensuring that patients across all communities and geographies have timely access to high-quality, equitable palliative and hospice care and to advancing the discipline of HPM, through professional education and training, development of a specialist workforce, support for clinical practice standards, research and public policy. AAHPM is governed by a 20-member Board of Directors and managed by a full-time staff along with additional, support provided by Association Management Center (AMC) based in Chicago, IL.

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SOURCE American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine


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