Leading Hospice Provider Changes Name, Hosts Disparity-in-Care Discussion

Amid a National Press Club conference room full of smiling faces, clapping hands and champagne-filled glasses, Carmela Pellicci welcomed the arrival of her employer’s new moniker: Capital Caring, a fresh title, she said, for one of the Washington D.C. area’s leading hospice providers.

Formerly named Capital Hospice, Capital Caring has helped patients and their loved ones through the arduous process of end-of-life care since 1977, a painstaking process by any standard.

Pellicci, a care representative for patients in Prince George’s County and Washington, D.C., said the provider’s new name is a welcome departure.

“As soon as you meet with a family, and they hear the word, ‘hospice,’ they cringe,” said Pellicci, who along with other Capital Caring employees, a physician panel and several visitors, cheered as President Marlene Smith Davis announced the name change Wednesday afternoon. “Capital Caring shows we really want to be there for them.”

This care, Pellicci said, goes a long way in ending health disparities in hospice care.

Health disparities refer to gaps in health care access that divide along racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines. Black elders in the District are 34 percent less likely to use hospice or end-of-life services than whites in their age group and from their region, according to new research conducted by Capital Caring.

For more than 34 years, Capital Caring has aided 75,000 families in coping with advanced illnesses like cancer. More than 20 doctors round out the organization.

Pellicci said disparities in hospice care bleed into Maryland as well, affecting minority residents for the worst.

“I think members of the African-American community feel like they are being pushed out of the medical system and that their doctors are giving up,” said Pellicci. “That’s a big problem in Prince George’s County, as well as in D.C.”

Pellicci looked on as NPR host Kojo Nnamdi moderated the panel of physicians, which included doctors from across the country. The physicians discussed the triggers of health disparities and raised potential solutions. One point united them all: Language barriers prolong disparities in hospice care.

“People of all ages, ethnic groups and religious traditions have a fundamental ambivalence about their own mortality…language is critical,” said Dr. Richard Payne from Duke University. He cited a California study to illustrate his point.

“The study looked at Hispanic and African-American populations and found that a major issue or barrier to lack of access for those in California were around how you talk about hospice and how you connect it to other aspects of health care and community life,” he said.

Payne said the study serves as a mirror for the role language plays in deepening disparities in hospice care nationwide.

As far as solutions, Davis said improving access to counseling and pain and symptom management programs are essential to closing the gap–two strides she takes seriously.

“We’re serious about listening to our patients and families–the moms, dads, their children–and looking at the landscape to see what’s there and what’s not there,” Davis said.

Pellicci said community outreach is proving ideal for Capital Caring in Prince George’s County.

“We’re making a lot of headway,” she said.  “We’re providing a lot of education in community churches, senior centers, long-term care facilities, hospitals and just raising awareness about what Capital Caring is about. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a wonderful experience. ”

By Capital News Service’s Jessica Harper

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