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Public Statements

Statements On Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


By Mr. WYDEN (for himself and Mr. REED):

S. 641. A bill to amend the Public Health Service Act to increase the number of permanent faculty in palliative care at accredited allopathic and osteopathic medical schools, nursing schools, and other programs, to promote education in palliative care and hospice, and to support the development of faculty careers in academic palliative medicine; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, I rise today to discuss the critical need in today's health care workforce for additional training related to palliative care. Palliative care is an interdisciplinary model of care focused on relieving the pain, stress and other debilitating symptoms of serious illness, such as cancer, cardiac disease, respiratory disease, kidney failure, Alzheimer's, AIDS, ALS, and MS. Its goal is to relieve suffering and provide the best possible quality of life for patients and their families.

Many people mistakenly believe that palliative care is only beneficial when a cure is not possible. Actually, palliative care is not dependent on a life-limiting prognosis and may actually help individuals recover by relieving symptoms such as pain, anxiety or loss of appetite while they are undergoing sometimes difficult medical treatments or procedures, such as surgery or chemotherapy. Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses, social workers, and other specialists who work with a patient's other health care providers to provide an extra layer of support, including assistance with difficult medical decision-making and coordination of care among specialists. Palliative care is appropriate for people of any age and at any stage in an illness, whether that illness is curable, chronic or life-threatening.

There is a specific type of palliative care, called hospice, for people for whom a cure is no longer possible and who likely have 6 months or less to live. Hospice care can be provided at one's home, a hospice facility, a hospital or a nursing home. Hospice care is about giving patients control, dignity and comfort so they have the best possible quality of life during the time they have. Hospice care also provides support and grief therapy for loved ones whose struggles are often cast aside or forgotten during treatment.

A growing evidence base has demonstrated that palliative care, including hospice, improves quality, controls cost and enhances patient and family satisfaction for the rapidly expanding population of individuals with serious or life-threatening illness. Palliative care may also prolong the lives of some seriously ill patients.

Over the last 10 years, the number of hospital-based palliative care programs has more than doubled due to the increasing number of Americans living with serious, complex and chronic illnesses and the realities of the care responsibilities faced by their families. Studies suggest that in states with more hospital-based palliative care programs, patients are less likely to die in the hospital, are likely to spend fewer days in the ICU, have better pain management and higher satisfaction with their health care.

As usual, Oregon is ahead of the curve and I'm proud to say that in a 2011 report ranking states on their citizens' access to hospital-based palliative care programs, Oregon was among the seven states who earned an ``A'' rating, with 88 percent of Oregon hospitals offering palliative care.

Unfortunately, many seriously ill patients and their families lack the type of access available to Oregonians. Palliative care is a relatively new medical specialty and more must be done to ensure an adequate, well-trained palliative care workforce is available to provide comprehensive symptom management, intensive communication and a level of care coordination that addresses the episodic and long-term nature of serious, chronic illness. I believe that, with Federal support, we can help address the workforce gap between those currently practicing in palliative care and hospice and the number of health care professionals required to care for this expanding patient population. That is why today I am introducing the ``Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act'' or PCHETA. This authoring legislation focuses on three key areas to grow the palliative care and hospice workforce: education centers to expand interdisciplinary training in palliative and hospice care; training of physicians who plan to teach palliative medicine and fellowships to encourage re-training for mid-career physicians; and academic career awards and career incentive awards to support physicians and other health care providers who provide palliative and hospice care training.

With this legislation, patients and families who are facing serious or life-threatening illness will have access to the high-quality palliative care and hospice services that can maximize their quality of life. I urge my colleagues to join me in this effort.


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