New Jersey Enacts Law to Expand Palliative Care

New Jersey has joined a growing list of states that are establishing laws to advance palliative care. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has signed a bill to create a state advisory council on palliative care and quality of life.

The new law also includes provisions for a hospice and palliative care access program to expand public and clinician awareness with the goal of building a system to identify patients who need these types of care and educating them about its benefits for the seriously ill.

“Many New Jersey families have watched loved ones suffer and go through an intense amount of painful treatments during their last days. Palliative care offers comfort and peace to patients and their families during these difficult times,” State Assemblyman Benji Wimberly (D), told Hospice News. “The expansion of palliative care gives more patients in New Jersey the opportunity to fulfill their last wishes, and spend their last days the way that they want to spend them.”

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The law requires that the state’s Department of Health form the 11-member advisory council within three months. Among the group’s responsibilities will be tasking hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation hospitals to educate seriously ill patients about palliative care and hospice.

The state in 2016 established a similar council on end-of-life care, which released a 2018 report making 26 recommendations for improving care and access to care that included training programs for health care providers, public awareness campaigns and promotion of advance care planning.

The Garden State is home to more than 1.35 million senior citizens, and this demographic is expected to grow by two-thirds through 2030 as the baby boom generation ages.

A number of states have launched similar initiatives during 2018 and 2019. Both Kentucky and Ohio passed such legislation in March.

All told, 27 states had passed laws to expand palliative care as of Dec. 2018, according to the National Academy of State Health Policy (NASHP). The specific provisions of the laws vary, but each is designed to expand palliative care and/or hospice utilization for patients with serious, chronic or terminal illnesses.

“Palliative care helps those with cancer and their caregivers better address their cancer treatments,” Samantha De Almeida, director of government relations for the New Jersey region for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network. “Palliative care will be a crucial resource for many of the more than 53,000 estimated New Jerseyans who this year will hear the words ‘you have cancer.’ This resource also helps ease the burden on family and other caregivers.”