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April 11, 2017

The Importance of Health Care Conversations and Advance Directives

Guest Column by Ann Wondergem

April 16 – 21, 2017 is National Health Care Decisions Week. During this week, the Sheboygan County Advance Care Planning Task Force is offering help in reviewing or completing your Advance Directive.

Even now, I vividly recall a day in February of 1995.  My mother, who had just turned 62 years old in January, was sitting at her kitchen table with family members and a nurse from a home hospice program. We had gathered to support her being admitted to the home hospice program.  As I look back at this day, I wish I knew then what I know now about health care planning and an advanced directive and Power of Attorney for health care.  Fortunately for us, my mother was competent and could sign herself into the hospice program.  We all knew my mother was going to die but had not discussed with her what choices she would want us to make for her medical care and services, if she was no longer able to make these decisions for herself.

A little over ten years ago, when my husband and I updated our wills, we did have the attorney include completing the Power of Attorney for Health Care form.  Although the form was on file, neither my husband nor I ever discussed in any detail what choices we wanted if one of us became incapacitated and could no longer make decisions for ourselves. 

Through my volunteer work with the Advance Care Planning Task Force, I am more informed and – as my family says -‘driving them crazy’ talking about advanced health care planning and the importance of an advance directive for any one 18 years of age and older. Unlike the health care form I signed over 10 years ago, my current advance directive contains more information and I have discussed my wishes with my husband and children, who I have chosen as my health care agents. My son, who is in his 30’s, has completed his advance directive as has a neighbor and his family members, a financial representative I worked with and her family and many others. 

Today, I am asking you. What if you become unable to make your own health care decisions?  Have you discussed with family members or someone else close to you, your choices about medical care and services.  More importantly, do you have an Advance Directive?  An Advance Directive is a legal document including Power of Attorney for Health Care. This document allows you to appoint another person and alternate people to make your health care decisions if you become unable to make these decisions for yourself.

If you answered, no, if you are not sure, or you know believe you have completed a document but have not recently reviewed or discussed your wishes with your health care agent; please consider this a gentle nudge and make advance health care planning a priority on your to do list. 

You may contact any one of the following Task Force organizations for assistance in reviewing or completing your Advance Directive:

  • Aurora Sheboygan Clinic Patient Assistance Department (920) 457-4461 Ext. 2323
  • Aurora Sheboygan Memorial Medical Center Social Work Office (920) 451-5533
  • Lakeshore Community Health Care (920) 783-6633
  • Sheboygan County Aging & Disability Center (ADRC) (920) 467-4100
  • Sharon S. Richardson Community Hospice (920) 467-1800
  • Sheboygan Internal Medicine Associates (920) 452-6000

Currently, the members of the Sheboygan County Advance Care Planning Task Force include the Aging and Disability Resource Center, Aurora Health Care, Lakeshore Community Health Care, United Way of Sheboygan County, Senior Activity Center of Sheboygan, Sheboygan Internal Medicine Associates, Generations, Sharon S. Richardson Hospice, Sheboygan Progressive Care Center and Public Health – Sheboygan County Health and Human Services.  The Task Force offers educational information and presentations.

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