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World Hospice and Palliative Care Day Raises Global Awareness

World Hospice and Palliative Care Day Raises Global Awareness
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Overall, the need for hospice and palliative care has been growing faster than people can access them.

This was the impetus behind the World Hospice Palliative Care Alliance (WHPCA), which emerged from an Oct. 8, 2005 meeting of health care leaders in South Korea. During those discussions, it became apparent that a sizable portion of those leaders’ public health concerns involved patients nearing the end of life, according to WHPCA Executive Director Stephen Connor.

“That first gathering was a conclave of leaders in global health policy, such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization, among various other bodies,” Connor told Hospice News. “We met because we recognized the fact that no one was really speaking up about palliative and hospice care in the policy arena. WHPCA was then formed, and one of the first things we did was set a day aside for global recognition, because most of every major issue in health care worldwide centered around what was happening in the last years of life.”

Soon after its inception, the alliance established World Hospice and Palliative Care (WHPC) Day to spread the word about serious illness and end-of-life care.

The observance is now recognized on the second Saturday of every October and features educational and fundraising events in nearly 70 countries. One of its principal goals is to shed light on patients’ and families’ care needs and educate them — as well as policymakers and clinicians — about all available options.

A major barrier to patients receiving services is the poor understanding that many among the general public and the medical community have about those modes of care.

Case in point, as many as 71% of the US population has little to no understanding of what palliative care is, including many clinicians in a position to refer patients and their families, according to a 2019 study in the Journal of Palliative Medicine.

WHPC Day’s 2022 theme, “Healing Hearts and Communities,” is partly aimed at addressing unprecedented toll of the COVID-19 pandemic and the emotional and mental wreckage left in its path.

As of Oct. 6, the deadly virus has claimed close to 6.53 million people worldwide, including 1.05 million in the United States alone, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported. But these estimates are likely a fraction of the actual death toll due to regional variations in disease surveillance, testing, and inequitable access to the health care system.

“The theme this year seeks to highlight the plight of the billions who are ‘walking wounded’ after the last few years, which have been grief-filled for everyone,’ Leigh Meinert, advocacy manager at the Hospice Palliative Care Association of South Africa, told Hospice News in an email. “We have a long way to go in terms of being comfortable talking about and engaging with the prospect of death and dying.”

Observances like WHPC Day can help normalize and conversations about death and health care at the end of life, Meinert said. The global event is also designed to encourage institutions and health care providers to in advocate for standardized, national and regional policies and programs that support patient and family needs.

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Some hospice providers see this year’s theme as an opportunity to spread their message to a wider audience, including underserved communities.

“We are looking at efforts in our general outreach to expand the awareness of hospice, palliative care and grievance care to a much wider audience,” Shauna Cabot, chief advancement officer at Hospice of the Chesapeake, told Hospice News. “This year’s Healing Hearts and Communities theme really inspired us, because so much healing is needed in our communities.”

The theme speaks directly to the hospice’s efforts around health equity, according to Cabot.

Hospice of the Chesapeake is honoring WHPC Day with an Oct. 8 fashion show fundraiser in collaboration with WHPCA and Saks Fifth Avenue, a subsidiary of Hudson’s Bay Company.

“We wanted to bring the idea of ​​global hospice and palliative care to a different audience,” Cabot told Hospice News. “Saks reached out to us, and a lot of their designers carry fashions from around the world with representation from Asia, South America, Africa, and Europe. It’s truly going to be a global fashion show and will include people who maybe haven’t really thought about hospice and palliative care before.”

The hospice will use the proceeds from the event to cover grievance and bereavement services, palliative care, pediatric and veteran programs, Cabot said. These types of services are often under-reimbursed or not covered at all by payers.

Some of the funds will also go to support The Brits-Hartbeespoort Hospice, Chesapeake’s sister organization in South Africa. Almost all of the palliative and hospice services in South Africa are delivered solely through volunteerism and philanthropic donations, according to Cabot.

“WHPC Day is an opportunity to celebrate that partnership and raise awareness. We can continue to learn from how they do things over there,” Cabot said. “There’s a smaller, more community that rallies around their patients, and it’s very different from the larger, medicalized model that we have. We can continue to learn from the true compassion that they have shown, even though they don’t have a lot of money to support it.”

Other stakeholders hope that WHPC Day events will spark more interest among clinicians to enter the severely understaffed hospice and palliative care fields, according to Dr. Holly Yang, board president of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine.

The day also presents an opportunity for hospice employers to recognize and show appreciation for their staff’s hard work, added Yang. This in turn could support employee retention.

“I hope that health care workers get involved, and that they see how wonderful the field of hospice and palliative care is nationally and globally,” Yang told Hospice News. “As people think more and more about meaningful work and ways to impact health equity, one important part of that is promoting and providing access to high-quality care for patients with serious illness and their families who need support around the world.”

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