With nearly 40 million adults throughout the country having a serious illness within the past three years and nearly 20 million suffering from chronic pain that interferes with their daily activities, Assembly Democrats Shanique Speight, Cleopatra Tucker and Nancy Pinkin have sponsored three bills to improve access to both palliative and end-of-life care in New Jersey. One of those bills was signed into law Monday, while the other two received full legislative approval.
The aim of each bill is to help prepare both medical professionals and the general public for the potential need for end-of-life and palliative care. The bill signed into law (A-4682/S-3118) establishes a public awareness campaign to promote early conversations about this subject to help improve decision-making when it comes to the kind of care patients may need during the final stages of their life.
One of the bills that passed the full Assembly and Senate on Monday (A-4683/S-3116) would require hospitals and various long-term care facilities to identify the end-of-life care needs of new patients/residents, provide them and their families with information and train personnel. The stipulations would apply to assisted living facilities and residences, personal care homes, nursing homes and other locations where sick and elderly individuals are supported.
“Many people never learn about or give much thought to the kind of care they will want towards the end of their lives, which may be something that greatly impacts their well-being,” said Assemblywoman Speight (D-Essex). “It’s important for patients to have conversations about what they want their final stages of life to look like and for caregivers to be equipped with the knowledge they need to make that happen. These measures will increase awareness and spark more discussions about end-of-life care.”
“With the median age of most towns increasing rather than staying the same, our senior population continues to grow,” said Assemblywoman Tucker (D-Essex). “We have to consider the needs of our aging population and find a way to provide them with compassionate care wherever they are in their lives. We should be helping them plan ahead to ensure their needs are met in their final years.”
Individuals struggling with pain and detrimental symptoms due to medical issues that are not necessarily life threatening would also receive assistance through the second bill that passed the full Assembly and Senate on Monday (A-4685/S-3117). This legislation would require hospital emergency departments to utilize a screening tool to identify patients in need of palliative care and then provide those patients with information on the benefits and applicability of that care.
It would also require hospitals to keep the unique needs of patients with intellectual or developmental disabilities in mind whenever it is determined they may need palliative care.
“Palliative care is about having the ability to experience the best quality of life possible,” said Assemblywoman Pinkin (D-Middlesex). “Palliative care plans help people identify who can take care of them when they return home and what resources will be necessary to meet their needs. Educating patients upon their arrival to the emergency room will save time and resources while ensuring that the patient has a voice in the care they receive for their chronic illnesses or end-of-life needs.”
The two remaining bills await action by the Governor.