SPRINGFIELD — National Healthcare Decisions Day on Monday, 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 their patients informed guidance about advance healthcare planning.
“It’s never too early. All adults over the age of 18 should have a healthcare proxy, so that they have a decision maker prepared in the case of an emergency or they are unable to 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 on April 16.
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. 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,” she said.
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,” Dietzen said. “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 of National Healthcare Decisions Day, volunteers will staff numerous tables in the Chicopee/Agawam Room just outside the second-floor cafeteria in the Daly Building on April 16 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Among the topics at the individual tables will be “Do You Have a Healthcare Proxy,” “The Conversation Project,” “What Is MOLST,” “Prepare for Your Care Online Tools,” “Planning with Cake Online Tools” and “Honoring Choices.” Literature, information, and tools will be offered to help people engage in conversation with their loved ones.
Also, Baystate Health’s Senior Class will hold a free lecture, “Who Will Speak for You,” on Wednesday, April 11 from 2 to 4 p.m. Open to the public, the event will be held at the Baystate Health Education Center at 361 Whitney Ave., Holyoke.
Dr. Rebecca Starr, medical director, Health New England, and the Rev. Ute Schmidt, manager, Spiritual Services, Baystate Medical Center, as well as Michelle Sikes, an attorney with Schmidt & Sikes, will discuss advance care planning, including terms and barriers associated with advanced directives, as well as forms such as the healthcare proxy and the Massachusetts Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (MOLST). Tips will also be offered on how to discuss your wishes with family, loved ones, and friends, and attendees will leave with a packet of information and forms that can be discussed with family and healthcare providers. To register for the free event, call (413) 794-5200 or visit whowillspeakforyou.eventbrite.com.