Although palliative care (PC) has become increasingly familiar, considerable gaps persist in access to and use of services. Community-based programs remain rare, and low-income, minority communities significantly under-utilize hospice and palliative services. We used community-based participatory research (CBPR) methods to conduct a mixed-methods community needs assessment of seriously-ill older adults (n=100) and providers from community-based programs and churches (n=41) in an urban medically-underserved community in the U.S. to explore: (I) the prevalence and severity of illness-related symptoms and psychosocial-spiritual concerns; (II) the scope and quality of community supports helping older adults manage their symptoms; and (III) the perceptions and utilization of palliative and supportive care services among older adults and community-based service providers. Participants reported high rates of chronic illness-related symptoms (i.e., pain, fatigue, sleeping difficulties, depression, and anxiety), and many described unmet needs around symptom management. Few had ever utilized PC or pain management services, and most relied primarily on family, friends, and faith communities to help them manage burdensome symptoms. Barriers included lack of familiarity with PC, limited access and financial concerns. Older adults were largely unfamiliar with PC, and many described unmet needs and desire for help with symptom burden. Findings support the need to further explore community-level and cultural barriers to PC among diverse, underserved older adults. Development of innovative community partnerships may help raise awareness of PC and address the physical and psychosocial-spiritual challenges facing chronically-ill minority older adults and their families.
Palliative care has demonstrated effectiveness in alleviating the biological, emotional, social, and spiritual symptoms that accompany serious illness, and improving quality of life for seriously ill individuals and their family members. Despite increasing availability, there are significant disparities in access to and utilization of palliative care, particularly among diverse, low-income, and community-dwelling older adults with chronic illness. Training frontline service providers is a novel approach to expanding access to palliative care among underserved elders. This article presents a process and outcome evaluation of a palliative care curriculum that was developed and piloted for geriatric case managers in a large urban area. We describe the background, planning, design, implementation, and preliminary outcomes associated with a pilot implementation of the curriculum. We conclude with implications for replicating efforts to enhance frontline providers' knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy in extending palliative care to communities that lack access to critical supports for their burdensome symptoms.
Although they experience high rates of chronic illness, low-income minority communities have traditionally underutilized palliative care services compared to whites and those with higher incomes. One reason for this trend is lack of screening by community providers. We utilized a community-based participatory research approach to develop and implement an innovative multidomain palliative care screening tool in aging service agencies. Participants were aging service providers and clients in the East and Central Harlem neighborhoods of New York City, which are characterized by high poverty, largely African American and Latino populations, disproportionally high rates of chronic conditions, and limited health-care access. Screening tool development included reviewing existing measures and obtaining feedback from an expert panel, aging service providers, and older adults. We developed a 22-item tool covering 3 domains of palliative care need (physical symptoms, emotional concerns, and goals of care), which can be administered in 10 to 15 minutes. Sixteen providers at 2 aging service agencies were trained to use the tool over a 3-month pilot period. The tool showed evidence of feasibility of implementation, with 44 older adult clients screened. Providers reported high acceptability, 36% of clients screened positive, and the majority accepted referrals to outpatient palliative care clinics. The screening tool has the potential to increase palliative care utilization among underserved community-dwelling older adults and may improve their quality of life, potentially in communities worldwide. Future work should examine the psychometric proprieties of the tool, examine predictors of positive screens, explore its impact on clinical outcomes, and expand its reach.