January 30, 2018
Establishing your medical wishes is also called Advance Care Planning, which is a planning process for individuals and loved ones to understand and discuss possible future health choices that may need to be made. An Advance Directive, or Healthcare Power of Attorney, is a legal document that lets you name another person (who becomes your health care agent or proxy) to make your health care decisions if you cannot make them for yourself. Fort HealthCare encourages all adults to have an Advance Directive on file at the hospital or at their primary care doctor’s office. It can be updated or changed at any time.
An Advance Directive is also a form that lets you write down your goals and preferences for future medical care in specific situations – such as what care you would want or would not want to receive at the end of your life. The Advance Directive does not give your health care agent authority to make financial or other business decisions for you or make certain decisions about your mental health treatment.
Lori Partoll, Medical Social Worker with Fort HealthCare, states, “Making your medical wishes known to your family and loved ones is a free gift you can give to them right now. Everyone over the age of 18 should have an Advance Directive or Healthcare Power of Attorney on file.”
Partoll continues, “Without having an important conversation about end-of-life care options, there can be confusion, conflict, or even guilt felt by loved ones in a situation that is already very stressful. With a written plan in place, you can focus on the things that matter to you most. It can be very scary at first to think about these possible scenarios, but making your own personal medical wishes known is a great gift to give the people that care about you so they are assured they are following through with what you want.”
Donald Williams, MD, with Fort HealthCare Internal Medicine & Pediatrics, shares a personal story about the importance of Advance Directives, “In 2004, as my parents were aging, but still in reasonably good health, we sat down as a family and discussed their wishes for future medical care. Both were able to decide for themselves how aggressive they would like their treatments to be for end of life care. They both completed a Healthcare Power of Attorney document expressing those wishes.”
Williams continues, “As we grow older, we realize we are not going to get out of this world alive, and having my parents’ wishes known was a gift they gave to our family. My father suffered a massive stroke in 2007 and with the help of hospice, he was kept comfortable and we were comforted in part knowing his wishes were followed.”
Williams adds, “Over the next several years, my mother had the gradual onset of dementia, likely Alzheimer’s disease, and with increasing amounts of support was able to stay in her home. Finally, a hip fracture necessitated her move to an extended care facility. She did as well as could be expected with continued decline from her dementia until a second hip fracture caused a major worsening of her functioning and she lost the ability to eat and swallow. Based on her wishes from the conversations that were documented in her Health Care Power of Attorney, my siblings and I were at peace with providing the loving care and comfort measures that she wished for. She soon passed away peacefully.”
Williams notes, “End of life conversations are never easy, as they require all of us to face our mortality. However, in my career as a physician, there have been both very trying and alternatively very comforting end of life experiences. We need to know and respect the wishes of the dying. Loved ones can’t act on your wishes unless they know what they are.”
Fort HealthCare has advance care planning facilitators to help you work through this planning process for free. Both the facilitator meeting and filling out the Advance Directives document is free. You can also download informational brochures and a blank Advance Directives packet from Fort HealthCare’s website at FortHealthCare.com/MedicalWishes to help get the process started. For more information about this free program or to schedule a meeting, call Fort HealthCare’s medical social worker team at (920) 568-5279.
Fort HealthCare participates in Honoring Choices Wisconsin, a Wisconsin Medical Society initiative committed to promoting the benefits of and improving the processes for advance care planning across the state, in healthcare settings, and in the community.
Fort HealthCare is committed to improving the health and well-being of our communities, with a vision to be the healthiest community in Wisconsin. As the leading healthcare provider in the region, it is our goal to reach as many members of the community as possible with health and wellness messages, providing tools and resources to help individuals improve their health and quality of life, while collaborating with several partners to positively improve the population’s health overall on a long term basis. For more information, visit FortHealthCare.com.