SAN MARCOS — The second annual professional palliative care conference took place at Cal State University San Marcos (CSUSM) on June 23.
Doctors, nurses, social workers, nurse practitioners and psychologists were among the attendees at this year’s conference. The conference included presenters addressing issues in providing palliative care, a panel on the End of Life Option Act, and discussions on palliative and hospice care and ethical issues.
Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses and focuses on giving these patients relief from their symptoms, pain and stress.
The conference began with opening remarks from experts within palliative care, as well as CSUSM President Karen Haynes.
“The CSU Institute for Palliative Care, which we proudly launched in 2012, has its home here,” Haynes said. “And it is a stellar example, from my perspective, of that forward and strategic thinking. As you well know better than others, America’s elderly are a growing population. Ten thousand baby boomers, and I resemble one of those, turn 65 each day. It was this reality as well as the increase in chronic diseases among all age groups that gave us the push for finding the institute.”
Haynes shared her beliefs that palliative care will make a change in California and beyond, that palliative care will change health care and that it needs to be the way to change people’s lives.
“Improving access to palliative care means continuing, means overcoming obstacles, improve workforce development and increase community awareness,” Haynes said. “Advancing compassionate care and ensuring everyone has access to the best quality of life through palliative care is essential and we envision a future in which it is readily available to all.”
After Haynes’ remarks, Dr. Karl Steinberg discussed how palliative care in California has come a long way, but still has a ways to go.
“There are still parts of the state where there are no hospice services available,” Steinberg said.
Steinberg then addressed the detrimental effects of Medicare being cut, regarding the government’s plan for “Trump Care.”
“If Medicare gets cut, poor and older people … they are the ones who will get hurt the most,” Steinberg said.
Sharon Hamhill, PhD, faculty director for CSU Institute for Palliative Care at CSUSM, was baffled by the government’s plan to cut Medicaid.
“I worry we will become a country of the haves and have nots and personally I can’t understand why we don’t make health care a basic right for everyone,” Hamhill said. “Yes, there are a lot of different issues to consider, paying for it, but I think at the heart of it, there has to be a belief that it is the right thing to do.”
After opening remarks, a panel discussed the End of Life Option Act, which is a California law that permits people with serious illnesses to get aid-in-dying medication if certain conditions are met. The law went into effect on June 9, 2016.
A panel, which included people experienced in working with patients who used the end of life option, discussed their experiences.
Sybil Cimicata, a licensed clinical social worker for Kaiser Permanente, discussed how this act is very controversial and people judge her for what she does.
“I am proud to help people who are suffering,” Cimicata said.
Currently, end of life option is being looked into nationally. Legislation has been introduced in 28 states, 17 states are not advancing, but there are still a few states in which the legislation is in process. Currently five states — California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont and Washington — and the city of Washington, D.C., have death with dignity acts.
During the question portion of the panel, an unidentified audience member said that he is against the End of Life Option Act. He said he believes physicians should be there, side-by-side, with their patients. He also said he believed the panel was biased.
Jennifer Ballentine, MA, chair of the San Diego Coalition for Compassionate Care, responded to the audience member stating they wanted the panel to have had experience to speak of regarding the end of life act since the act was recently passed.
The conference ended around 4:30 p.m. with a film screening of the 2016 Academy Award-nominated Netflix documentary “Extremis.” Next year’s conference will be held June 15 at CSUSM.