Legislation to Help Improve Quality of Life for Patients with Serious Illnesses

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Bill Would Establish a Palliative Care Information Program to Educate Patients, Families & Healthcare Providers

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Nancy Pinkin and Herb Conaway, Jr., M.D. to help improve the quality of life and relieve pain and suffering for patients suffering from serious illnesses was unanimously approved by an Assembly panel on Thursday.

The bill (A-3911) would establish a “Palliative Care and Hospice Care Consumer and Professional Information and Education Program” within the state Department of Health.

“Palliative care is a vital and expanding area of health care that focuses on the physical, emotional and social needs of patients suffering from chronic and life-threatening illnesses. It is comprehensive in nature with the goal of improving quality of life,” said Pinkin (D-Middlesex). “Unfortunately, eight out of 10 people surveyed aren’t even aware of these services. By empowering patients and their families with this information, we can help drastically improve their quality of life and relieve suffering during the most difficult times.”

The American Cancer Society defines palliative care as specialized medical care for individuals with serious illnesses. It allows teams of doctors, nurses, social workers and other health care professionals to work together to improve life for people of all ages with illnesses such as cancer, cardiac disease, respiratory disease, kidney disease, Alzheimer’s, ALS, and others. Patients receive pain management through both pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic therapies, as well as services to help physical, social and spiritual needs.

“Dealing with the common effects of cancer treatment such as pain, nausea, vomiting and weight loss is extraordinarily difficult even under the best of circumstances,” said Conaway (D-Burlington), a practicing physician. “Palliative care has the ability to significantly improve all of this. Sadly, this burgeoning practice isn’t as widely used as it should be so it’s incumbent upon us to educate patients, their loved ones and health care providers on the benefits and need for palliative care.”

The purpose of the program established under the bill is to maximize the effectiveness of palliative care and hospice care initiatives throughout New Jersey by ensuring that comprehensive and accurate information and education are available to the public, to health care providers and to health care facilities.

The bill would also establish a nine-member Palliative Care and Hospice Care Advisory Council, which would work in collaboration with the Cancer Institute of New Jersey to develop and implement the information and education program.

Every hospital, nursing home, extended care facility, rehabilitation facility and ambulatory health care facility providing long-term care services licensed in the state shall provide information about appropriate palliative care and hospice care services to patients and residents with a serious illness. In the event the patient or resident lacks the capacity to make health care decisions, the information must be provided to a family member or other person legally authorized to make health care decisions.

The measure was approved by the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee chaired by Conaway. It would take effect on the first day of the fourth month following enactment.