“The best decision I’ve ever made.”
“Meant so much.”
These are common refrains from so many Idahoans who have experienced hospice care firsthand. At Treasure Valley Hospice here in Nampa, we are always grateful for the continuing opportunity to deliver high-quality, person-centered end-of-life care time and again.
It’s one of the reasons why a recent federal report – which detailed isolated and disturbing stories of poor-quality hospice care – was so upsetting. The specific cases highlighted in this report are despicable, and it’s clear, in light of these recent reports, we must do more to prevent these kinds of situations from ever happening again.
In the face of growing demand for hospice services across America, we should expect the highest integrity in hospice care, and this report and its recommendations provide an opportunity for lawmakers to revamp the oversight policies for hospice and end-of-life care.
Federal reforms should focus on smart oversight that targets poor-performing providers while reexamining processes currently in place that are either ineffective or nonconstructive. Hospice providers who are unable or unwilling to provide high-quality care should not be in the business of caring for the dying and their loved ones.
Nevertheless, the goal of these reforms should be to flag fraudulent or negligent activity, not produce additional administrative burdens that misdirect resources away from patient care and the oversight of willful bad actors. Put another way, systematic changes should support oversight that is smart, not arduous.
Beyond weeding out bad actors, we also need to encourage and bolster dedicated professionals with enhanced education and training. Compassionate, well-trained staff and volunteers are integral to providing quality hospice care – but they need the support of provider organizations committed to a culture of excellence through ongoing education.
The critical decision of when and where to receive hospice care should also be made easier and more transparent for families and loved ones. Information on providers should be available and reliable so that all parties can feel confident in their decision. Beyond increased consumer data, information sharing between care providers should be as seamless as possible to ease care transitions.
One hurdle that Congress could fix this year is expanding rural access to hospice by passing the Rural Access to Hospice Act (H.R.2594/S.1190). Passage of this bipartisan legislation will allow patients from Rural Health Clinics and Federally Qualified Health Centers to receive hospice care from their local trusted primary care practitioner. Care coordination at the end of life can be fragmented with poor communication among healthcare providers. Allowing practitioners at RHC’s and FQHC’s to transition with patient’s into hospice care, would strengthen relationships between healthcare settings and allow for a deeper knowledge of a patient’s medical history.
While one bad experience is one too many, overall, negative experiences with hospice care are outliers. Still, fraud and abuse in any healthcare setting must be addressed swiftly to protect patients and families. Hospice providers, myself included, and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization are prepared to work with the Administration and Congress to address these issues so more Americans can experience the many benefits of hospice care at its best.