National Health Care Decisions Day is April 16

4 mins read

By Jennifer Massey, LMSW, ACHP-SW

Recognizing the importance of advance care planning


Aging. We feel it with every ache and pain. We see it in the mirror with every laugh line and wrinkle. We notice it when our friends are swapping doctor referrals for arthritis and knee replacements.  We start planning for it when we are young with retirement accounts, life insurance and maybe even a will.

While we talk about the physical changes, we often ignore their meaning. We avoid it because it’s morbid, scary or perhaps will even jinx us. Then a crisis occurs and no one knows what to do. 

April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day – an appropriate time to take the steps necessary to assure that your healthcare wishes are known and fulfilled as you age.

Getting Started

Start by asking yourself:

  • What is quality of life and what healthcare decisions support that?
  • What goals are important if your condition worsens? 
  • What fears and worries do you have about your future?  
  • What abilities are critical and how much are you willing to go through to maintain them?
  • How much does your family know about these answers?

If, because of injury or illness, you can’t make important healthcare decisions, your family will need to speak on your behalf. Who will the doctor ask? It’s time to have a conversation, telling your family the decisions you’ve made. If you are unsure how to start, ask your doctor or social worker to help arrange a family meeting or go to www.begintheconversation.orgfor ideas.

Put in in writing

Complete an advance directive, a written document outlining your healthcare decisions if you become terminally ill or have a serious illness and can’t speak for yourself. Completing one is simple. Download the document or ask your healthcare provider for a copy. Fill in the blanks and sign it. You will need a couple of witnesses and maybe a notary, but an attorney is not necessary. You can be specific, or simply name someone to make decisions for you.

In South Carolina, advance directives include:

  • South Carolina Health Care Power of Attorney
  • Five Wishes
  • Declaration of a Desire for a Natural Death

You can find more information and comparisons at www.mylifemychoices.org and download the forms from there. Forms are also available at www.BeaufortMemorial.org.

Spread the word

After you have completed the appropriate form, give copies to your doctors, healthcare facility, and the person you have designated as your healthcare power of attorney.  Keep the original in a safe but easily accessible place. 

Review your wishes periodically. Our goals, and therefore healthcare decisions, may change as we age. Review your decisions as often as once a year, but it is imperative you review them in case of divorce, diagnosis, decline or death of your chosen agent. Whoever has copies will need to be updated if you make changes.

When we receive a diagnosis of a serious illness or have an accident, it feels like our healthcare is out of our control.  Take back some control.  Don’t put the burden on your family to guess what you want.  Prepare in advance, educate your family, document your wishes and empower your family to act confidently on your behalf if they should ever need to.

Jennifer Massey is Outpatient Care Coordinator at Beaufort Memorial Hospital. A social worker for over 15 years, she is certified in hospice and palliative care.

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