Keep quality hospice care in Connecticut

Published on July 3, 2011 by

“To everything there is a season, a time to be born and a time to die” declares the short yet profound book in the Old Testament of the Bible, “Ecclesiastes.”

And, of course, we all know this to be the truth.

Births are generally considered a time of celebration, a time of hope and promise, a reminder that perhaps God has not given up on us, yet. Death, however, is not a subject most of us care to discuss, unless and until it confronts us and stares at us right in the face while we are otherwise engaged in the everyday activity of living.

On June 14, a small group of Bridgeport residents accepted an invitation from Connecticut Hospice to visit the grounds of its state-of-the-art in-patient facility in Branford. For those unfamiliar with Connecticut Hospice, it is the first Hospital Hospice in America, having been established in 1980. It also established the first Hospice Home Care program in 1974, distinguishing Connecticut as the birthplace of the hospice movement in America.

Hospice care is dedicated to “end-of-life” care for the patient as well as for the patient’s family. It is guided by the twin principles of dignity and respect. The goal is neither to advance nor delay “the time to die,” but rather it is to provide comfort to the terminally ill and their families. Care is provided by an interdisciplinary team of specialists who attend to the many complex needs of the terminally ill. The services are comprehensive and address the physical, the emotional, the psychosocial and the spiritual.

More than a few of the members of the group that visited the facility in Branford on June 14 were personally familiar with hospice care in that members of their families had, at different times, received these specialized services. While the experience of losing a loved one is always difficult and challenging, the memories of those moments of loss were serene and less painful given the intervention of the team of hospice professionals.

The group’s interest in learning more about Connecticut Hospice was triggered by information that suggested that Hospice, as we know it, was about to change due to certain regulatory changes promulgated by the Department of Health. The changes would lead to a diluting of the services currently provided by Hospice to those having a few days or hours to live.

Some of the changes in the proposed regulations include lowering the nurse-to-patient ratio as well as the ratio of doctors to patients. The changes, as proposed in the new regulations, would indeed set the “death with dignity” movement backwards by more than a few steps.

When a state agency, such as the Department of Public Health, proposes to change its regulations, it must follow a certain procedure. It must first announce its intention to amend the regulations and invite persons wishing to present their views to do so in writing within 30 days of the publication of the announcement. If 15 or more persons request a public hearing on the proposed changes, a hearing must be scheduled.

In this case, the Department of Public Health announced its intentions to amend the regulations in the Jan. 11, 2011, issue of the Connecticut Law Journal. A public hearing was held in April. At the present time, the Department of Public Health is in the process of finalizing the regulations in order to submit them to the Regulations Review Committee of the Connecticut State Legislature.

The Regulations Review Committee of the Connecticut State Legislature consists of 14 legislators, six senators and eight representatives. According to its website, the responsibility of the committee is “to review regulations proposed by state agencies and approve them before regulations are implemented.” No date on which the committee will vote on these regulations has been set.

Three members of this committee are from the greater Bridgeport area: Rep. Andres Ayala, who represents the 128th District of Bridgeport, Rep. T.R. Rowe, who represents the 123rd District of Trumbull, and Sen. Anthony Musto, who represents the 22nd District (Bridgeport, Trumbull and Monroe).

Upon learning that a strong probability existed that the changes proposed by the Department of Public Health would be approved by the Regulations Review Committee, the small group of Bridgeport residents decided to engage in a ‘grass-roots lobbying effort,’ to provide meaningful input into the democratic process.

The members of the group include Millie Maldonado, former president of the Fairfield County Puerto Rican Parade; Maria Pereira, member of the Bridgeport Board of Education, Millie Rios, former coordinator of the Puerto Rican Parade; Leticia “Tish” Santana Lopez, member of the Bridgeport Caribe Youth League, Beatrice Torres, member of the Bridgeport Caribe Youth League; Angel and Zoraida Reyes, proprietors of Check Cashing and More; the Rev. Moises Mercedes, of Prince of Peace Church in Bridgeport; and this writer.

The first step taken by the group was a decision to contact Ayala. Maldonado called Ayala and invited him to meet with all of us. He graciously accepted the invitation.
The meeting was brief but productive. When the group expressed its concerns over stripping hospice care of the major components of compassion, respect and dignity, Ayala emphatically stated that he did not support a for-profit hospice movement. He informed us that he had looked into the matter by discussing the proposed regulations with the Department of Public Health and he was comfortable in taking a position to keep the current regulations without change.

If you believe that the quality of end-of-life hospice care must not be compromised or sacrificed in the name of corporate profit, contact Ayala and thank him for his opposition to the proposed changes in the regulations. You might also wish to contact state Musto and Rowe to solicit their support for retaining high-quality hospice care.