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CHCF Making a Difference for People With Serious Illness

By Melanie Marshall

The California Health Care Foundation (CHCF), a nonprofit philanthropy, has been working since 1996 to improve the state’s health care delivery system and expand access to care and coverage, especially for Californians who are low-income.

It’s a vital and challenging mission, even absent a coronavirus pandemic, economic crises, and shifts in federal health care policy. Yet the foundation continues to focus on having meaningful, measurable impact across the state.

Through grantmaking, research, and thought leadership, CHCF is moving the needle on several fronts, including helping to make high-quality serious illness care and end-of-life care more accessible to all who need it.

That movement is illustrated by the foundation’s support of the CSU Shiley Institute for Palliative Care, headquartered at Cal State San Marcos. The institute creates and delivers online and in-person education to help health professionals build specialized skills to relieve suffering and enhance quality of life for people with serious illnesses and those who care for them.

CHCF helped to launch the institute in 2012 and has continued to invest in its educational programs through grants totaling $1.95 million. Over the past eight years, the institute has trained more than 20,000 health professionals in palliative care and reached more than 25,000 students through education and awareness campaigns led by its campus partners.

CHCF has been integral to that success, said the institute’s Executive Director Jennifer Moore Ballentine.

“From the beginning, the California Health Care Foundation has been an engaged and extremely supportive partner,” Ballentine said. “Not only have they provided significant funding, but they have been a valuable thought partner, collaborator, and promoter in our mutual mission of advancing palliative care.”

Palliative care is whole-person, patient-centered care designed to ease suffering and improve quality of life for people with serious illnesses. It’s “what we would all want health care to be,” said Kate Meyers, MPP, Senior Program Officer for High-Value Care at CHCF.

“We all want health care providers to look at us as people with lives that exist outside of the health care system, instead of as a collection of diagnoses,” Meyers said. “We want care that will help us live our best lives as we face a serious illness.”

Meyers noted that CHCF’s initial investment in the institute was a recognition that, if California was going to meet the growing need for palliative care services, it needed a source of education, expertise and support for the clinicians who would provide those services.

As the institute has grown, CHCF has helped it identify and fund new educational programs on topics such as primary palliative care skills, care management, and telemedicine – all critical to expanding access to care for vulnerable populations, Meyers said.

Primary palliative care skills – basic skills for clinicians without advanced training in palliative care – are particularly important because, as the population ages, more people will be diagnosed with serious illnesses. Health professionals in primary care practices, clinics, and other settings must be prepared to care for them.

“It’s long been known that there aren't and won't ever be enough palliative care specialists – physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers, chaplains, and others – to meet the growing need for palliative care,” Meyers said.

That’s a problem because palliative care skills such as communication, advance care planning, psychosocial aspects of care, and care at the end of life aren’t adequately addressed in medical school or training programs for other disciplines, she said.

“We expect these clinicians to emerge from their training equipped to do something they're not trained to do,” Meyers said. “They don't get nearly enough training in essential areas like pain and symptom management in progressive illness, having difficult conversations with patients and families, and addressing complex emotional issues.”

Weaving palliative care education into pre-professional training is critical. In 2019, CHCF helped fund a collaboration between the institute and its campus partners at Cal State San Marcos, Fresno State, and Cal State Monterey Bay to create a faculty toolkit with teaching and learning resources that can be incorporated into any classroom.

Twenty faculty members at the three campuses piloted the toolkit, reaching a total of 1,170 students in disciplines including nursing, social work, psychology, and gerontology. The institute is now working to make the toolkit more widely available across the CSU.

“The toolkit is a rich opportunity to collaborate with CSU colleagues to expand palliative care education across disciplines in undergraduate and graduate education,” said Pamela Kohlbry, RN, Ph.D., Director of University Relations and Research for the institute. “I’m so grateful to CHCF for supporting this important and inspiring work.”

The foundation continues to support other palliative care education, research, and quality initiatives across the state. In addition to the institute, CHCF has funded programs through the Coalition for Compassionate Care of California, the Palliative Care Quality Network at UC San Francisco, and many others including California’s public hospitals and a variety of health plans and community-based palliative care provider organizations.

Meyers said although access to palliative care has improved greatly in California and around the country, “it’s not enough. There’s still a long way to go to make sure all people with serious illness receive the kind of support that can help them live their best lives,” she said.

To learn more about CHCF’s work in palliative care, visit www.chcf.org/topic/serious-illness-end-of-life-care/.

Media Contact

Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist

ebreier@csusm.edu | Office: 760-750-7314