Political Palliative Care: Opportunities for Advocacy to Transform Palliative Care

Finding time to keep updated on pending palliative care legislation can be a challenge for busy palliative care practitioners. However, political advocacy work is as important as direct care work, and in some instances, may have the potential to improve lives and decrease suffering on a much larger scale. There is an urgent need to improve equitable access for all people who could benefit from palliative care, especially those who have been unfairly impacted by systemic racism and other forms of oppression in health care. This type of change will require some changes in public policy and laws. The palliative care community can work together to influence these changes through increasing engagement in political palliative care practice. 

Political palliative care is not partisanPolicy advocates view frontline healthcare professionals as important potential contributors for political action and advocacy due to their unique knowledge, proximity, and insight into the lives of the patients they care for. For patients with complex long-term healthcare needs, such as those served in palliative care, this type of practitioner advocacy can help communicate the perspective of a population of patients who may not be as well-equipped to communicate their experiences barriers to care and unmet needs.

Palliative care social workers, with their unique training and specialization in both practice and policy, are uniquely situated to help other practitioners engage in political action and use their voices to communicate with their elected representatives about the type of legislation that can help palliative care patients. Here at SWHPN, we are very interested in keeping our community up to date with pending legislation and helping with this process. 

A good place to start is to first learn the names of all your elected representatives. There are many search engines available to access this information, Open States will let you look up by your address and provide you with the names and contact information for both federal and state representatives. It is important to contact all if you can.  But even just one can make a difference. 

To keep you informed on current events in policy we have these two updates:

  • On the state level, in the past, this has been a little more challenging since there are so many different state governments with diverse interests in enacting palliative care legislation. For example, states like Georgia have passed 16 pieces of legislation related to palliative care in the past three years while states like Florida and Kansas have passed none. However, there has recently been developed a way to track each states’ progress in palliative care policy through the Palliative Care GPS. This database was created through a partnership with the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy at Yale Law School, the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC), and with research assistance from Yale Law School students and Sacred Heart University School of Social Work Students. The GPS aims to assist policymakers, clinicians, researchers, and others in better understanding how states, territories, and tribal governments are adopting palliative care policies over time.  It is also a great way to identify opportunities for influencing public policy on pending legislation on the state level. Take some time to review your state on the Palliative Care GPS.  If there is legislation pending, contact your state officials and ask for their support. If there is no palliative care legislation, contact your state officials and ask them why.  This is a great way to start engaging in the political process, and if you are so inspired, share what you did with your co-workers and friends, and ask them to do what you just did. 
That is what we call advocacy campaigning.  Any of these actions that you can find the time to do can make a difference and help us to show up in the political process for the patients we serve.
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