SPRINGFIELD — Being prepared for any situation in life is everyone’s top priority, and when life throws a curveball, being prepared for the unthinkable shouldn’t be any different.
National Healthcare Decisions Day on April 16 aims to help people across the country be prepared for any healthcare emergency by understanding the value of advance healthcare planning. The goal of the initiative is to reduce the number of tragedies that occur when a person’s wishes are unknown, and improve the ability of healthcare facilities and providers to offer informed and thoughtful guidance about advance healthcare planning to their patients.
“It’s never too early. Everyone over the age of 18 should have a healthcare proxy because anyone, no matter what age, could be involved in a life-altering accident or sudden life-threatening illness rendering them unable to make decisions or speak for themselves,” said Dr. Diane Dietzen, medical director, Palliative Care Services at Baystate Medical Center, where the hospital will celebrate National Healthcare Decisions Day April 16-22.
Dr. Dietzen noted that is important to make sure the person you identify as your proxy is someone who understands your wishes.
“We often think of our spouse or parents as being able to make those decisions for us, but they may not be the right person because of the emotional burden their decision will carry,” she went on. “That’s why it is so important to put your wishes in writing, and to select someone who is emotionally able to carry out your wishes and who can answer any questions the doctor may have about your care.”
A healthcare proxy is a simple legal document allowing you to name someone you know and trust to make healthcare decisions for you if, for any reason and at any time, you become unable to make or communicate those decisions. An advance directive, also known as a living will, is a legal document in which you state your wishes regarding end-of-life medical care — including the types of treatments you do and do not want — in case you are no longer able to make decisions or communicate your wishes.
“We are always surprised by how many people we see in the hospital who have not made their wishes known to family about how they want to be treated in a variety of situations,” said Dietzen. “We are committed to ensuring that all adults with decision-making capacity have the information and opportunity to communicate and document their healthcare decisions. Making your wishes known in advance by completing a healthcare proxy and an advance directive is extremely helpful to physicians in knowing whose direction to follow in the event of family controversy over treatment, which could otherwise lead to the courts becoming involved.”
In an effort to promote awareness and the importance of National Healthcare Decisions Day, volunteers will staff a table in the second-floor cafeteria in the Daly Building April 17-21 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. They will have literature, information, and tools to help people engage in conversation with their loved ones or trusted persons who they might want to be their healthcare proxy.
Also, Dr. Rebecca Starr, medical director, Health New England, and the Rev. Ute Schmidt, manager, Spiritual Services, Baystate Medical Center, will present a lecture on April 20 titled “Who Will Speak for You?” The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held from 1 to 3:30 p.m. at Baystate Health’s Education Center located at 361 Whitney Ave. in Holyoke.