Two Disturbing Articles about the Education of Doctors and Nurses

A September 12, 2019 Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “Take Two Aspirin and Call Me by My Pronouns- At ‘woke’ medical schools, curricula are increasingly focused on social justice rather than treating illness” exposed the problem with including politically popular courses at the expense of hard science.

This was preceded by an August 23, 2019 MedPage article titled A Radical Change to Nursing Board Exams” that exposed a “A lack of situational teaching in clinical settings has led to inadequate skills in critical thinking and decision-making on the part of novice new graduate nurses” resulting “in an epidemic of poor clinical judgment among novice nurses, preventing them from making the best decisions for their patients and incurring huge costs to the institutions where they work for longer orientation periods and malpractice lawsuits.” (Emphasis added)

It is hoped that this new nursing board exam will force nursing schools to make clinical judgment and clinical experiences a central part of nursing education.

I was shocked but not actually surprised by these two disturbing articles.

NURSING EDUCATION

I started to notice the problems some new nurses were having several years ago after the traditional 3 year nursing diploma education in hospitals was  phased out in favor of 2 year associate degree programs (ADN) and 4 year bachelor degree programs (BSN) with less clinical experience.

Many of our new nurses had trouble with decision-making and couldn’t function well in the hospital. Many were demoted to nursing assistant or left after their trial period. I tried to personally help some of these new nurses who were obviously dedicated and wanted to do their best for their patients but many froze from the fear of making a wrong decision.

These new nurses needed more continuous help than I could give so I talked to nursing supervisors but the situation did not change much.

In the meantime, my hospital announced that every nurse now must have a bachelor degree in nursing (BSN) by 2021. This started at many hospitals after a 2010 Institute of Medicine paper recommended a goal that 80% of nurses have a BSN by 2020. RN to BSN programs then proliferated, eventually even online.

Most of my fellow nurses who took these BSN courses on their own time while working full-time complained to me that these courses were not especially helpful clinically and more geared to management preparation and community education. They also complained about exhaustion and difficulty managing family, work and study. Several wound up getting sick themselves.

Although the hospital helped with the expense of the BSN degree, the hourly salary increase for a BSN only went up to 10 cents more an hour when I was there.

MEDICAL EDUCATION

In the September 12, 2019 Wall Street Journal op-ed “Take Two Aspirin and Call Me by My Pronouns”  by Dr. Stanley Goldfarb, a former associate dean of curriculum at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine, highlights  another but similar problem. He asks “Why have medical schools become a target for inculcating social policy when the stated purpose of medical education since Hippocrates has been to develop individuals who know how to cure patients?”

He complains that:

“These educators focus on eliminating health disparities and ensuring that the next generation of physicians is well-equipped to deal with cultural diversity, which are worthwhile goals. But teaching these issues is coming at the expense of rigorous training in medical science. The prospect of this “new,” politicized medical education should worry all Americans.” (Emphasis added)

He also states that:

“The traditional American model first came under attack by progressive sociologists of the 1960s and ’70s, who condemned medicine as a failing enterprise because increased spending hadn’t led to breakthroughs in cancer treatment and other fields. The influential critic Ivan Illich called the medical industry an instrument of “pain, sickness, and death,” and sought to reorder the field toward an egalitarian social purpose. These ideas were long kept out of the mainstream of medical education, but the tide of recent political culture has brought them in.” (Emphasis added)

He concludes:

“Meanwhile, oncologists, cardiologists, surgeons and other medical specialists are in short supply. The specialists who are produced must master more crucial material even though less and less of their medical-school education is devoted to basic scientific knowledge. If this country needs more gun control and climate change activists, medical schools are not the right place to produce them.” (Emphasis added)

After an apparent avalanche of criticism, the Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial defending Dr. Goldfarb’s op-ed stating:

“Patients want an accurate diagnosis, not a lecture on social justice or climate change. Thanks to Dr. Goldfarb for having the courage to call out the politicization of medical education that should worry all Americans.” (Emphasis added)

CONCLUSION AND SOLUTIONS

I became an RN fifty years ago in what I now call a “golden age”.

Before we could even be admitted to nursing school, we had to submit a character reference. My fellow nursing students were as excited and dedicated as I was to become the best nurse possible for our patients. We regularly saw programs like “Marcus Welby, MD” and “Medical Center” where doctors and nurses worked tirelessly and bravely to help their patients.

When my preferred hospital changed its nursing program from a 3 year diploma program to a 2 year ADN program, I was worried but decided to trust the hospital. However, I felt somewhat unprepared after graduation and found a 1 year nursing internship program at another hospital that gave me supervised clinical experience in every area.

Not only did that increase my competency, it changed my mind from specializing in pediatrics to critical care. I think that such programs should be encouraged at every hospital for new nurses to help solve the problem of poor decision-making and clinical judgement. Nothing substitutes for actual clinical experience which is in short supply  in many ADN and BSN programs.

Also 50 years ago, rigorous ethics were an important part of our nursing education with “do no harm” to patients, report our mistakes, never lie, advocate for our patients regardless of age, socioeconomic status or condition, etc. incorporated as standard requirements. We happily took the Nightingale Pledge.

However in the 1970s, I saw ethics slowly become “bioethics”. The tried and true Hippocratic Oath principles requiring high ethical and moral standards for doctors including prohibitions against actions such as assisting suicide and abortion gave way to “bioethics” with essentially four principles:

1. Respect for autonomy (the patient’s right to choose or refuse treatment)

2. Beneficence (the intent of doing good for the patient)

3. Non-maleficence (not causing harm)

4. Justice (“fair distribution of scarce resources, competing needs, rights and obligations, and potential conflicts with established legislation”)

Unfortunately, those principles are malleable and then used to justify actions and laws that would be unthinkable when I graduated. That bioethics mindset slowly changed not only medical and nursing education but also the principles that informed our work.

While we cannot recreate the past, we can reform our medical and nursing education and practice to return these professions-and our medical and nursing associations-to positions of trust. This is crucial not only for our professions but also for our patients and the public.

 

Here is What Sara Buscher Wrote to a Senator about the PCHETA

I have written before about the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA) that has now been reintroduced in 2019 but today, I have a guest column.

Sara Buscher recently wrote a well-researched letter to her congressman opposing the new PCHETA bill and has given me permission to use it here.

To find your state’s House of Representative member, go to https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative

To find your US Senator. go to https://www.senate.gov/senators/index.htm and type your state into the search box near the end.

September 8, 2019

Via Email to sean_riley@ronjohnson.senate.gov

The Honorable Ron Johnson

United States Senate

Washington, DC 20510

September 8, 2019

RE:      Palliative Care and Hospice Education Training Act (PCHETA),

  1. 2080 (in Senate HELP Committee) and related bill H.R. 647

Dear Senator Johnson:

I am a retired attorney and C.P.A. who served on Governor Tommy Thompson’s task force on health care costs. I managed employee benefit programs for the State of Wisconsin and later at the University of Wisconsin. As a lawyer in private practice, I advocated for the elderly and disabled. I currently serve on the board of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition – USA.

I urge you to object to this bill being “hot-lined,” oppose it and vote against it. As one accountant to another, this bill is a rip off. In effect it will help create a second tier of health care where people receive poorer care, and are sometimes euthanized. The bill provides federal funding for palliative care medical education and a public awareness option for “selling” palliative care to patients and their families. Palliative care grew out of and includes hospice care. It provides an earlier pathway to hospice care.

Government Funding is Unneeded

Government funding is not needed. If enacted, the bill will cost the federal government $86 million over the next four years.[1] Palliative care has already spread rapidly.[2] Through 2006, the George Soros’ Open Society Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation spent more than $200 million to develop and expand palliative care.[3] With philanthropic[4] funding, palliative care has grown to the point that more than 80% of US patients who are hospitalized for serious illness have access to it.[5] Over 2017-19, $40 million is being spent to develop community programs for serious illness.[6]

We know that philanthropic funding did not stop when the bill failed to pass two years ago. During that time, palliative care has continued to expand. If enacted, this bill would replace philanthropic dollars with federal tax dollars. So, this bill would benefit those who want to reshape medicine for the rest of us according to their worldview.

 Elusive Cost Savings

If there are any savings, which is questionable as discussed below, providers would likely keep them. When the government pays a flat fee, like Medicare and Medicaid do for hospitalizations, the providers keep all the savings.[7] For example, if Medicare or Medicaid pays $20,000 per case and the hospital spends only $13,000, thereby saving $7,000, the government still pays $20,000 and provider keeps $7,000. The same is true of all the managed care programs and hospice. Industry proposals would have Medicare pay for palliative care like it does for hospice with a flat daily fee.[8]

I am concerned that palliative care, like its older sister hospice will not live up to its cost savings hype. Palliative care researchers are claiming they can save end of life costs that hospice and advance care planning also claim to be saving. It just isn’t possible to save the same costs (use of Intensive Care Units (ICUs), reducing hospitalizations, and reducing aggressive care at the end of life) more than once.

A study done for the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) found Medicare hospice benefits have not lowered Medicare costs in the last year of life.[9] According to the consultant, some researchers showed hospice saved money by picking time periods that compared apples to oranges.[10]

Enactment Could Erase Medicare Fraud Recoveries

The HHS Office of Inspector General says hospices are defrauding Medicare of hundreds of millions of dollars by enrolling people who are not terminal and then billing Medicare at the highest rates.[11] Hospices are already using palliative care as a “loss leader” to enroll more patients into hospice earlier.[12] Hospices make more money by enrolling people who are not eligible for hospice as they need less care.[13] As a result, for-profit hospices are the most profitable Medicare-financed health service. Id. They expect palliative care to become as profitable.[14] Competition will drive out small non-profit hospices.[15]

The PCHETA bill could erase Medicare fraud recoveries by extending palliative care including hospice to those with a “serious or life threatening illness,” the definition of which is to be decided after enactment with input from hospice and palliative care insiders (Bill Section 4 creating section 904(c)(3)). If defined in a way that allows end of life hospice-like care to be called palliative care, it would legitimize enrolling the people who are now being fraudulently enrolled in hospice. Medicare spent $9.5 billion on hospice benefits for patients who outlived their terminal prognosis in 2016.[16] Nearly half of hospices are unsure they could pass a government audit, saying their biggest concern is their enrollment of people who are not terminal. Id. So, this bill could benefit those who game the system.

A Government Stamp of Approval May Hoodwink People

Palliative care can start alongside normal medical care and then eventually shift to hospice care without access to normal medical care. The HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported that people were inadequately informed about the consequences of enrolling in hospice and some were placed in hospice completely without their knowledge.[17] In California, the Senior Medicare Patrol reported that elderly people living in their own homes were approached by nurses and sold housekeeping services that turned out to be Medicare hospice enrollment, leaving them without access to their medications and with unpaid medical bills.[18]

A government stamp of approval may lead more people to poor palliative care and in some cases, euthanasia. Last year, the HHS-Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported that hospice enrollees were receiving poor care.[19] More recently, HHS-OIG reported that 80% of hospices had deficiencies that posed risks to beneficiaries, with 20% jeopardizing patients’ health.[20]

Instances of patients being overdosed to unconsciousness until they die (this is called “palliative sedation” or “terminal sedation”) have increased according to Duke University professor Farr Curlin, M.D.:

Many patients and their families don’t trust HPM [Hospice and Palliative Medicine] and are resistant to it.… These individuals tell stories about loved ones who declined slowly over time, fighting the good fight with the support and companionship of their family members and friends. When HPM professionals became involved in their care, their loved ones were put on powerful drugs, became unconscious and unresponsive, and were soon dead. These stories are clearly shared within communities and powerfully shape people’s perceptions of HPM, which many see as a sophisticated and seductive way of getting people to die.[21]

I was involved in a case where a family member authorized pain relief for her sister and was assured the staff would keep her warm in a snugly blanket because she was always cold. Three hours later, she was dead after massive repetitive doses of powerful drugs.

To maximize profits, the director of Novus Health Services regularly directed nurses to make hospice patients “go bye-bye” with overdoses of drugs like morphine.[22] Novus is now facing a $60 million Medicare fraud indictment.[23]

Clinical practices in palliative medicine regularly result in shortening lives.[24] In one study, 39% of physicians and nurses said they intended to shorten survival with medications and treatment withdrawals.[25] A survey of over 800 hospice and palliative care physicians revealed 45% would sedate patients who were not actively dying to unconsciousness and then withhold food and fluids until they died.[26] One-fourth of them said it did not matter to them how long the patient had to live. Id.

I hope you will do everything you can to kill this bill.

Sincerely,

Sara Buscher

[1] https://www.cbo.gov/publication/54309

[2] https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/892289

[3] Palliative Care Grantmaking Snapshot Report 2009 (data up to 2006) at page 4, available at amydwrites.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/Palliative_Care_Grantmaking_Snapshot_Report.13155115.pdf

[4] “Mr. Soros is now funding a project that focuses on the development of palliative care globally. We help govern­ments develop pain and palliative care initiatives and policies.” https://www.mskcc.org/experience/physicians-at-work/kathleen-foley-work

[5] See note 2.

[6] https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/full/10.1377/hlthaff.2017.0653 grant from Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

[7] J. Brian Cassel, Whose Costs Are Saved When Palliative Care Saves Costs?, Health Affairs Blog Sept. 2014 at https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20140929.041603/full/

[8] See proposals via links at https://www.nationalcoalitionhpc.org/aahpm-pacssi-payment-model-ptac-results-a-win-for-patients-and-families/

[9] Spending in the Last Year of Life and the Impact of Hospice on Medicare Outlays (Updated August 2015), MEDPAC http://www.medpac.gov/docs/default-source/contractor-reports/spending-in-the-last-year-of-life-and-the-impact-of-hospice-on-medicare-outlays-updated-august-2015-.pdf?sfvrsn=0

[10] See note 9 at the Appendix.

[11] https://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-02-16-00570.asp linking to the complete report.

[12] https://hospicenews.com/2019/05/14/study-71-of-u-s-adults-have-never-heard-of-palliative-care/ A loss leader is a service sold below cost to attract more customers who will then buy more profitable services. www.businessdictionary.com/definition/loss-leader.html

[13] For-profit hospices saw profit margins exceed 15 percent in 2012, according to a new report from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, known as MedPAC, which advises Congress on health policy. No other Medicare-financed health service was as profitable. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/hospice-report_n_55b1307ee4b0a9b94853fc7a 

The 2016 profit margin was 16.8%. http://www.medpac.gov/docs/default-source/data-book/jun19_databook_entirereport_sec.pdf?sfvrsn=0 at p 190.

[14] See note 12.

[15] hospicenews.com/2019/08/27/confessions-of-a-board-member-small-hospice-non-profits-will-not-survive/

[16] homehealthcarenews.com/2018/10/nearly-half-of-hospice-providers-uncertain-they-would-survive-an-audit/

[17] See note 19.

[18] https://cahealthadvocates.org/beneficiaries-pay-the-price-for-hospice-fraud/

[19] https://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-02-16-00570.asp linking to the complete report.

[20] https://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-02-17-00020.asp linking to the complete report.

[21] Farr A. Curlin, MD Hospice and Palliative Medicine’s Attempt at an Art of Dying, ch 4 in Dying in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Lydia Dugdale, MD, MIT Press 2015 at page 48.

[22] https://www.bizjournals.com/dallas/news/2016/03/30/novus-hospice-ceo-directed-nurses-to-overdose.html

[23] https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndtx/pr/sixteen-individuals-charged-60-million-medicare-fraud-scheme

[24] Cohen L, et al., Accusations of Murder and Euthanasia in End of Life Care, J Pall Med 2005.8.1096 at 1102.

[25] See note 24 at 1099.

[26] Plots created by Sahr N, Ph.D from data reported on in Maiser S et al., A Survey of Hospice and Palliative Care Clinicians’ Experiences and Attitudes Regarding the Use of Palliative Sedation, J Pall Med 2017 Sep;20(9):915-92.

Nurse Vindicated After Being Forced to Participate in an Abortion

In 2018, I wrote about “The New Federal Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” established by the Trump administration as a desperately needed help for those of us health care professionals whose conscience rights have been ignored or threatened and included a link to report complaints even online.   Now in fiscal 2018 alone, the division says it has received and dealt with more than 1300 complaints.

Most recently and thanks to the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division and with help from the American Center for Law and Justice, an unnamed nurse who was forced into assisting in an elective abortion in 2017 has been vindicated.

On August 28, 2019, the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced that, after a thorough investigation and attempts to resolve the issue, the OCR issued a Notice of Violation to the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) for forcing that nurse to assist in an elective abortion over her conscience-based objections and even though other nurses were available.

The OCR found that the UVMMC had discriminatory policies that assign or require employees to assist abortion procedures even after they record their moral or religious objections. UVMMC now must conform its policies to the long-standing Church amendments that protect the conscience rights of individuals or entities that object to performing or assisting abortions and take corrective action or “face potential action by the HHS from which UVMMC has received federal funding”.

The notice also noted that for the last 3 years UVMMC “reported that it cumulatively expended $1.6 million of federal financial assistance.”

The unnamed nurse, who no longer works at UVMMC, told the American Center for Law and Justice that she was misled into thinking she was assisting in a miscarriage but then found out that it was an elective abortion. However, her superiors “callously refused to relieve her”.  Fearing retaliation, she went through with assisting the abortion and was traumatized.

According to the American Center for Law and Justice, at least four other nurses, have now confirmed that they had been subjected to similar violations of their conscience rights.

As the American Center for Law and Justice also noted, even though the Church amendments were enacted after the US Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973,  they always lacked a mechanism for enforcement by private citizens. Enforcement depended on the Health and Human Services department. Unfortunately that enforcement has, for all intents and purposes, been nonexistent until recently.

Now the new division has put some teeth into enforcement.

CONCLUSION

As I have written before, groups like Compassion and Choices (the former Hemlock Society) and Planned Parenthood have vehemently criticized the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, claiming that it would allow medical professionals “to impose their own religious beliefs on their patients and withhold vital information about treatment options” as well as “pave the way for discrimination against people for a variety of reasons.”

The fundamental right not to perform or assist in deliberate death procedures terrifies these organizations that depend on medical professionals willing to assist suicides or perform abortions.

Therefore, we must all make sure that the whims of politics never again interfere with the fundamental right of medical professionals to “Do no harm”.  This is not only for their protection but also for our own.