April is National Health Care Decisions Month, a time when we shine a spotlight on the importance of advance care planning. The effort is designed for the public as well as for medical providers to encourage patients to express their wishes regarding health care.
“We hope the month serves as a conversation-starter with family members — a time when both community members and health care teams learn about the benefits of completing a Power of Attorney for Health Care,” says Jennifer Sanderfoot, Advance Care Planning Specialist for ThedaCare.
It’s important to not only complete a valid Power of Attorney for Health Care (POA-HC), but also to have discussions with your loved ones about what kind of care you would want — or not want — if there ever came a time when you couldn’t speak for yourself, she says.
The Institute for Healthcare Improvement offers ways to get the conversation started.
Available for Those 18 and Older
Anyone 18 or older can complete a POA-HC. In doing so, you designate someone you trust (a health care agent) to make health care decisions for you when you cannot.
“We would love to see everyone complete a POA-HC document when they turn 18 years old, but whether you are 18 or 98, we’ll help walk you through the document, answer all your questions, and make sure it’s who and what you want,” Sanderfoot says. “We also provide the witnesses, make copies for you, and then scan it right into your medical chart. It’s all done in one appointment.”
Advance Care Planning Services
ThedaCare offers free Advance Care Planning appointments with trained facilitators to help you complete these documents. Additionally, ThedaCare offers free community classes and clinics monthly at several locations. Please call (800) 236-2236 to register for a class or make an appointment.
ThedaCare offers the following classes and clinics:
- Appleton (Encircle Health)
- Weekly Clinic, Wednesdays, 8 a.m.-Noon (appointment only)
- Monthly Class, 3rd Thursday, 5-6:30 p.m.
- ThedaCare Medical Center-Berlin: Monthly Clinic, 2nd Tuesday, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. (scheduled and walk-in appointments)
- ThedaCare Medical Center-New London: Monthly Clinic, 1st Thursday, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. (scheduled and walk-in appointments)
- ThedaCare Physicians-Neenah: Monthly Clinic, 3rd Thursday, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. (scheduled and walk-in appointments)
- ThedaCare Physicians-Oshkosh: Monthly Clinic, 2nd Thursday, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. (scheduled and walk-in appointments)
- ThedaCare Physicians-Shawano: Monthly Clinic, 3rd Monday, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. (scheduled and walk-in appointments)
- ThedaCare Physicians-Waupaca: Monthly Clinic, 1st Tuesday, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. (scheduled and walk-in appointments)
- ThedaCare Physicians-Wild Rose: Monthly Clinic, 4th Tuesday, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. (scheduled and walk-in appointments)
Get Started Early
Sanderfoot says about half of ThedaCare patients age 65 and older have a POA-HC on file. For younger age groups, that percentage is much lower.
“Advance Care Planning is about doing what you can do to ensure that the health care treatment you receive is consistent with your wishes and preferences,” Sanderfoot says. “Having a completed POA-HC is really a gift to our families at a critical time, especially if the family members have talked through what they would want or not want.”
Experts emphasize it’s never too early to have a POA-HC. Accidents or illnesses can happen to any of us at any time, so it’s important to be prepared, Sanderfoot says. End-of-life situations are stressful for families. Discussing this document ahead of time will make decisions easier for your health care agent.
Don’t Leave it to Chance
Wisconsin is not a next-of-kin state, meaning that family (including a spouse) cannot automatically make certain health care decisions for loved ones who are unable to speak for themselves.
“Documenting these decisions with a POA-HC is key,” Sanderfoot says. “Without involving the court system, the only person who can make a decision about an incapacitated patient’s care is the person (or persons) named as the health care agent in the patient’s POA-HC.”
You don’t need a legal professional to prepare the documents for you and your family members. If you want to do it on your own, you may download a copy of the form at ThedaCare Advance Care Planning.