Congressman calls Penn State Hershey palliative care program a model

U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent announced Dec. 18 during an event at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center that he is co-sponsoring a bill designed to expand the availability of palliative care services to patients through workforce training and development.

Today’s health care system often can focus exclusively on treating a patient’s disease, while falling short of addressing emotional concerns, physical symptoms — including pain — and other chronic needs that are a part of treating a serious illness, such as cancer.

Recent studies have shown that medical care for those with advanced illness includes inadequately treated physical distress; fragmented care systems; poor communication between doctors, patients and families; and huge strain on family caregiver and support systems.

Palliative care services can be the thread that ties everything together, resulting in patients living longer and with better quality of life. 

The Penn State Hershey Center of Excellence in Palliative Medicine combines the expertise of doctors, nurses, chaplains and hospice-trained volunteers, working with social workers, psychologists, therapists and other care providers.

“We need this kind of legislation, we need to make sure that programs like this one here at Hershey are replicated around the country,” said Dent, whose district includes Penn State Hershey Medical Center. “This care is really designed to make that gut wrenching experience of enduring and fighting cancer less stressful. To the extent we can better train these medical professionals to help us all — patients, family members — deal with the heavy burden and stress, it would be well worth the cost.”

Often confused with hospice, palliative care is a growing subspecialty that serves not only those at the end of their lives, but also those who find themselves living with chronic serious conditions. Members of a multidisciplinary team work with the patient and family to determine goals of care and address a variety of needs.

Unlike hospice services — which require cessation of curative treatments — patients can receive palliative care measures alongside aggressive treatment plans. The approach includes pain and symptom management, as well as psychological, emotional, social and spiritual support for patients and their families.

Palliative care providers work in partnership with a patient’s medical team to maximize well-being and quality of life for those who live with complex medical conditions.

Nationwide, one in four hospitals offers palliative care, and all medical schools must provide some training in palliative medicine. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and Congressman Dent said the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act will expand the availability of these services to patients by focusing on workforce training and development.

The bill would increase the number of permanent faculty in palliative care at accredited allopathic and osteopathic medical schools, nursing schools and other programs. This will promote education in palliative care and hospice, and support the development of faculty careers in academic palliative medicine.

“This legislation is a great example of the progress we can make when medical experts, health care advocates and public officials all work together to address important health issues,” said Dr. Robert Aber, chair of the Department of Medicine, home of Penn State Hershey’s palliative medicine program. “It is also an example of the power of grassroots health advocates to bring important issues to the forefront – and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network has played a key role in championing the importance of palliative care.”

Last Updated December 19, 2013