Give the gift of advance care planning
April is National Healthcare Decisions month, focusing on the importance of Advance Care Planning and everyone over the age of 18 having a completed Power of Attorney for Health Care (POA-HC). Recent events surrounding COVID-19 have highlighted the importance of discussing your wishes with loved ones.
A POA-HC is a legal document that names someone to make health care decisions for you – i.e., a health care agent – should you ever be unable to direct or communicate that care. It does not need to be prepared by a lawyer.
“It’s never too early to have a POA-HC,” said Jenny Sanderfoot, MSW, Advance Care Planning Specialist for ThedaCare. “Accidents or illnesses can happen to any of you at any time, so it’s important to be prepared.”
Sanderfoot explained that Wisconsin is not a “next of kin” state, meaning that a spouse or immediate family member cannot automatically speak for a family member who is incapacitated and cannot direct their care.
“Without involving the court system, the only person who can make decisions about an incapacitated patient’s care is the person (or persons) named as the health care agent in the patient’s POA-HC,” Sanderfoot said. “In Wisconsin, even a spouse cannot make certain decisions unless they are named in the POA-HC.”
“Having a power of attorney for health care is one of the most important documents everyone needs,” said Hope McPeake, APNP, hospitalist at ThedaCare Medical Center-Appleton. “Everyone over the age of 18 should have a POA-HC and have it on file with their primary care provider and local hospital. Everyone tends to think of such documents as only needed by older people, but anyone over 18 needs one. Parents are accustomed to being able to make health-care decisions for/with their children, but once their son or daughter turns 18, parents lose that authority.”
Sanderfoot said there are two components to Advance Care Planning. The POA-HC document itself, which is what health care systems need to acknowledge a legal decision maker, and the ongoing discussions that should be held between the person and those whom they name as their health care agents.
“Without a conversation, there can be confusion, conflict and guilt in a situation that’s already very stressful,” Sanderfoot said. “With a plan in place and discussions held, your health care agent can focus on making decisions according to your wishes.”
“Family members need to know if their loved one would want CPR performed, or if and how long they’d want to be on a ventilator or whether they’d want to go to a facility or get home health care if they need treatment after leaving the hospital,” McPeake added. “These are important subjects to discuss.”
The online resource The Conversation Project available at www.theconversationproject.org provides guidance for having health care conversations.
ThedaCare provides free assistance to anyone wishing to complete a POA-HC as part of its participation in the Fox Valley Advance Care Planning Partnership available at www.fvacpp.org. It is a community-wide initiative working to normalize advance care planning and conversations for people of all ages. That group also includes Ascension Health, Mosaic Family Health and representatives from the greater Fox Valley community.