Study: Blacks less likely to seek hospice care

A new study shows when facing death, blacks in the D.C. area are less likely than whites to seek hospice care. Actually, experts say the District has one of the largest disparities in the country.

The study, conducted by an area hospice, found blacks are 34 percent less likely than whites to use a hospice when faced with an incurable disease.

Julia Jones is one D.C. resident who doesn't want to move to a hospice despite being terminally ill. She raised 12 children before being diagnosed with terminal bone cancer two years ago.

"You have times when you cry you think about the old days when you were able to do," Jones said. "I can't do anything now."

The District Heights resident had an allergic reaction to the chemotherapy. Now she'll never walk again.

"The hard part is seeing her upstairs because she can't do anything," said her son, James Howard.

Jones used to work in hospice care. When her doctor said it was her turn, even she was afraid.

"When I heard the word hospice, I automatically thought of death," she said.

"It's still a major, major problem," said Dr. Robert Williams of the Howard University Hospital. He said African Americans are less likely to use the support services, counseling and pain management hospice programs offer, whether at home or in a facility.

Mistrust in the health care system, disparity in income, and lack of information about hospice care specifically targeting minorities are all reasons for the unequal stance.

"The uninsured people, the under-insured people are using the emergency room as their primary care physician. That's episodic care and people fall through the cracks," Williams said.

One of the area's largest providers, Capital Hospice, which conducted the study, changed its name Wednesday to Capital Caring. By dropping the word hospice, the company hopes to eliminate negative assumptions that hospice equals giving up to death.

"People who are actually enrolled in hospice end up living longer," said Marlene Smith Davis. "You always want to meet people where they are."

More than 100 health care professionals received specialized training Wednesday to improve outreach to African-Americans in the metro area.

Jones said her family's burden lightened with the help of her hospice social worker Jennifer Betts. "It's about helping me to live better," Jones said.

Betts agrees: "What we like to do is empower," she said. "Hospice isn't something to fear."