Social workers members of new IOM committee

Panel will examine state of end-of-life care in the United States

Four social workers are among the members of a newly formed Institute of Medicine committee that will examine the state of end-of-life care in the U.S.

The Committee on Transforming End-of-Life Care is charged with developing a consensus study and technical report on the current state of end-of-life care.

The IOM activity report for the committee states that “the time is ripe for a new examination of how individual values and preferences can be aligned while assuring compassionate care focused on the needs of individuals approaching death in an affordable and sustainable manner.”

The committee met for the first time on Feb. 20 and 21 in Washington, D.C., and reviewed the previous IOM reports on end-of-life care, 2003’s “When Children Die: Improving Palliative and End-of-Life Care for Children and their Families”; and 1997’s “Approaching Death: Improving Care at the End of Life.”

During the public portion of the inaugural meeting, Dr. Judith Salerno, executive officer at the IOM, said it is the institute’s belief that end-of-life care is a topic that should not be polarized.

“It’s an issue in which we will all share the experience — as individuals, as caregivers, as clinicians,” she said. “This is a time in our debate about health reform and where we are in the health system where we can make a real difference and transform the experience.”

The four social workers selected to serve on the IOM committee also made public statements at the Feb. 20 meeting, including Fernando Torres-Gil, a professor of Social Welfare and Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, and director of the UCLA Center for Policy Research on Aging.

“It’s good to know we are starting to address a very important topic, pending the aging and actuarial inevitability of 75 million-plus baby boomers,” he said. “This will be an important topic.”

Another social worker serving on the committee, Judith R. Peres, is an expert consultant in the areas of long-term care and palliative end-of-life care at Altarum Institute’s Center for Elder Care and Advanced Illness.

“I have decades of research that I have done in Medicaid and Medicare policy,” Peres said. “As a social worker, I am concerned about the psychosocial aspects of care near the end of life. I have an expertise at the nexus of long-term care and palliative care.”

Social worker W. Judy Simmons, CEO of Partners in Care Foundation, also serves on the committee. The nonprofit foundation develops and tests health services innovations and works to assure access to home and community care.

Simmons develops initiatives and proactive programs that meet the mutual needs of patient populations, providers and health care delivery networks to encourage cost-effective, patient-friendly integration of care from hospital to home and community.

“We’re very excited in this historic moment of health reform to be working to move that and other models of evidence-based care forward to really transform care for those who need it the most — as this (end-of-life) population does,” Simmons said.

The fourth social work member of the IOM committee is Monsignor Charles J. Fahey, a program officer with the Milbank Memorial Fund and a priest of the Diocese of Syracuse in New York. He previously was an aging studies professor at the Fordham University Graduate School of Social Services. He also was a member of the National Commission on Quality in Long Term Care. Fahey has more than 50 years of experience in end-of-life care.

David M. Walker, CEO of Comeback America Initiative, is co-chairman of the committee. He said it will take up to 18 months to complete the work.

End-of-life care “is a complex, controversial issue,” he said. “It’s appropriate for the IOM to address this.”