Planning amid chaos: Why you should participate in National Healthcare Decisions Day

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During times of uncertainty like we’re in now, it’s more important than ever to create a plan that leaves nothing to chance.

In the midst of all this chaos, I urge you to take time this month to have one of the most important discussions you can with your loved ones: how you want to approach end-of-life decisions.

An advanced care plan — also known as a living will — provides direction to health care professionals when you’re no longer able to convey them yourself as the result of a coma, dementia, Alzheimer’s or other medical condition.

While many people have preferences about their end-of-life care, fewer than one-third of American adults have a documented plan in place about how they want to live out their last days or their final arrangements. Although it may feel like an uncomfortable topic, creating a plan ensures you get the care you want at life’s last chapter. Without one, loved ones are forced to make difficult decisions during already difficult times.

Organizations like Emmanuel Hospice know firsthand the stress these decisions — or lack thereof — can cause in times of trauma. Some families splinter as a result of disagreeing on how to care for a loved one in his or her final days or to honor one in death. We’ve found that as people enter into hospice care, having those important end-of-life decisions already in place allows family members the opportunity to worry about one less thing.

Planning one’s final wishes is so important there’s a designated “National Healthcare Decisions Day” each April. Always the day after taxes are due, it exists to inspire, educate and empower the public about the importance of advance care planning to address life’s final chapter. Though tax season has been extended this year, National Healthcare Decisions Day remains April 16.

Some situations naturally open the door to a dialogue, such as a death in the family, a medical diagnosis, a move, a divorce, job change or hospitalization. Another timely example is the current pandemic, either because people see others become seriously ill or because many of us are home more. Creating a plan is something we can all get done during this time of physical distancing.

Residents of Michigan are fortunate to have in place a statewide registry where they can enter their medical wishes so a large network of hospitals and health care organizations in the state can call up the information when end-of-life decisions are imminent. That organization — Great Lakes Health Connect — works in concert with Making Choices Michigan, a longtime advocate for people seeking information about advance directives.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it many unknowns, one thing is for certain: Advance care planning remains critical.

If you would like help navigating the conversation, you can visit makingchoicesmichigan.org or call (616) 421-4840 to connect virtually with trained facilitators, free of charge. They can guide the conversation, which will lead to the creation of an advance directive tailored to your specific needs.

There is no better time than now to articulate your wishes for the end of life, put a documented plan in place and designate an advocate before you need it. This ensures your wishes are clear and will be honored if you are unable to decide or speak for yourself.

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