Woman wearing blue gown lies in bed with her hand resting on a blanket

The pandemic has worsened attitudes toward end-of-life care, a panelist said during an online conference Wednesday.

A recent qualitative study found that older adults are resistant to advance care planning, don’t understand palliative care and have low trust in the healthcare system, commented Bill Novelli, professor of practice at Georgetown University, McDonough School of Business; and former CEO of AARP.

“They basically see healthcare as politicized and they see healthcare as a business,” said Novelli, a panelist during the Nathan Adelson Hospice Multicultural Symposium. Nathan Adelson is a nonprofit hospice in southern Nevada.

The pandemic also has widened ethnic and racial disparities regarding access to end-of-life care, he and other panelists said.

While she does not have the data to prove it, Rutu Ezhuthachan, M.D., medical director of United Healthcare’s Health Plan of Nevada – Sierra Health and Life, said she believes fewer people entered end-of-life care facilities during the pandemic.

Novelli agreed. “People were less willing, more reluctant to enter hospice,” he said.

The pandemic laid bare racial inequities, as various races, at various points, were dying disproportionately from COVID-19 in Nevada, noted Jose Melendrez, executive director of community partnerships at the School of Public Health, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. It’s important to engage stakeholders from different racial ethnic communities to help to bridge the equity gaps, he said.

“When it comes to diversity, we have to be very intentional about our decision to engage them and they have a voice at every level” said Melendrez, a founding member and chair of the Nevada Minority Health and Equity Coalition.

Tom Koutsoumpas, CEO of the National Partnership for Healthcare and Hospice Innovation, agreed. Underserved communities’ inability to access quality care is demonstrable, he said. “We have to be intentional about creating measurable change,” he said.