College of Health Sciences and Human Services

Department of Social Work

MSW student Sarah Press invited to Social Work Hospice & Palliative Care Network conference

MSW student Sarah Press was invited to present her research project at the 2020 Social Work Hospice & Palliative Care Network (SWHPN) General Assembly, to be held March, 2020 in San Diego.

Due to shelter in place restrictions, the conference was postponed, however, Sarah was honored to begin a fruitful relationship with this wonderful association. SWHPN is a, “national network of psychosocial care professionals, actively dedicated to providing the best and latest information, professional resources, policy updates, and new and emerging education and research best practices in palliative and hospice care.” The annual conference attracts​ more than 400 social work professionals, administrators, and thought leaders from across the country and world.

Sarah will present, “Race, Class and Access to the Benefits of Palliative Care in Integrated Health Settings: Barriers to Care and End-of-Life Impacts of Inequitable Practice.”

Palliative care is one of the fastest growing fields of healthcare, implemented to improve the quality-of-life of all patients and families facing life-threatening illness, through prevention and relief of suffering, treatment of physical, psychosocial and spiritual pain. More than 2.5 million people die every year in the United States, and while dying is inevitable for all, care at the end of life is not homogeneous. This research explores a growing body of evidence that details extensive disparities, root causes and effects of inequitable access to the evidence-based benefits of palliative care.

Sarah’s examination interprets extant literature by providing both evidence of disparities, particularly for poor people of color, as well as the variance and implications of current empirically-derived descriptors of barriers to care. She found that patients of color are exposed to high levels of intensive care in the last moments of their life, benefit from less management of pain and psychosocial distress, and experience higher use of life-sustaining “aggressive” as opposed to symptom-focused “comfort” interventions. Higher use of life-sustaining technology also correlates to unequal average costs of end-of life care: African American patients cost 32% and Latino patients 57 % more than white patients at the end-of-life.

The review synthesizes literature towards the goal of culturally congruent integrative healthcare competencies developed to amend the inequitable distribution of high-quality and effective palliative care. In order to ameliorate the unequal allocation of high-quality and effective palliative care, comprehensive, multi-level strategies are needed to eliminate disparities.

When fully fulfilled, there is strong congruence between social work practice and palliative care principles and values. Shared emphases between social work and palliative care include: commitment to patient self-determination and autonomy, strength-based assessment, eliciting values and exploring the influence of culture, socioeconomic and spiritual factors, communication, the importance of relationship, all within a context reflected in the openness and curiosity of an ecological framework. Sarah feels hopeful that social work will be an integral force for positive change in the palliative care arena and feels grateful and energized to join this committed and flourishing community.