New Jersey Legislation to Expand Hospice and Palliative Care

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) recently signed into law a piece of legislation designed to raise public awareness of hospice and palliative care. The state’s legislature is currently mulling two additional bills intended to boost awareness and utilization of those services.

The new law, designated S-3118, requires the state’s Commissioner of Health to establish a public awareness campaign to foster community-wide discussions and to promote early conversations about advance care planning and patient preferences to improve decision-making at the end-of-life.

“After the transition of trying to get the proper care for my mother and my sister, I thought that this would be something that would be very helpful for people to know about end-of-life care so they can get the information they really need when they have to make these decisions,” said State Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker (D), a co-sponsor of the bill. “It was very concerning to me. Plus, I’ve been through it.”

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The additional bills still under consideration include S-3116 and S-3117, which would require certain health care facilities to train all administrative and professional staff to complete annual training on advance care planning and end-of-life care, the use of advance directives and Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) forms, as well as provide patients with information about these services and hospice and palliative care.

S-3116 would apply to assisted living facilities, dementia care facilities, nursing homes, comprehensive personal care homes, residential health care organizations, hospitals and long term care providers. Bill S-3117 would establish similar requirements for hospital emergency departments.

“The important thing is to foster those conversations between patients and families and patients and their health care providers, so that they can understand what to expect when the time comes,” said State Assemblywoman Shanique Speight, who also sponsored the legislation. “People need to know what a POLST form is, and know to work on their will so family members won’t have conflict later on. This information is out there; these things are going to happen. So let’s start talking about it and sharing it with your family.”

New Jersey seems to be doubling down on efforts to educate the public about palliative care and end-of-life care options, including hospice. Last August, the state enacted a law that created a state advisory council on palliative care and quality of life.

That law also called 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.

New Jersey is among a number of states that have passed or are considering similar laws.

The state is currently 39th in the nation in terms of hospice utilization, with 44.7% of Medicare decedents in the state electing hospice during 2017, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Utah leads the nation at 59.4%. Utilization is lowest in Alaska at 22.5%.

“People need to know about these things beforehand. If you don’t have information about end-of-life care or how to go about seeking the proper care, it’s a very stressful situation,” Tucker told Hospice News. “You need to have someone to discuss these issues with to determine what is best suited for you when you need to make decisions and see what kind of care is available, including hospice and palliative care.”