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Looking Ahead stresses importance of advance care planning

Statistics indicate that about two-thirds of American adults lack an advance directive outlining their wishes for end-of-life care.

National Healthcare Decisions Day, held April 16, was launched in 2008 to encourage all adults to share with loved ones and medical providers what kind of care they would want in the future should they be unable to speak for themselves.

Advance care planning (ACP) is the process of creating an advance directive (“living will”) expressing personal “goals of care” and choices for end-of-life health care. This process also asks individuals to name a health care agent to act on their behalf should they be incapable of expressing their wishes for care. ACP involves understanding options, discussing choices, documenting decisions and sharing them with loved ones, health care providers and hospital so they can be followed when the time comes.

“Thinking now about what you want later gives you the time – without the pressure – to reflect on what is truly important to you before a crisis,” says Betsy Payn, executive director of Looking Ahead, a local nonprofit that provides ACP services to the community.

“Planning and documenting your choices lets you control your health care at a time in the future when others may be making decisions for you. And while Healthcare Decisions Day reminds us on April 16 to do so, advance care planning is a year-round responsibility.”

Through its partnership with Doylestown Health, Looking Ahead presents its small-group ACP program, called My Wishes Workshop, in the community at least three times a month. If they are ready, participants can complete their advance directive during this free workshop, or they can arrange to finalize their documents at a later date.

Looking Ahead arranges for the completed advance directives to be witnessed and notarized, then copies and files the documents with the appropriate hospital and primary care doctor, giving copies and the original to the individual. Once these are scanned into the patients’ medical records, they are easily available to all treating professionals.

“An advance directive, stored in a safe deposit box or never shared with family and physicians, gives a false sense of security,” Payn said. “You must share your wishes if you want people to follow them.”

The Village Knitters, a group of local women who meet regularly to knit baby caps and blankets for Doylestown Hospital, knew the importance of advance care planning – and they decided to do something about it. The group invited Payn to one of their weekly gatherings to deliver a My Wishes Workshop.

A couple months later, most of the women had their completed documents notarized, copied and filed with the hospital and their primary care physician.

“All adults need to have an advance directive,” said Payn. “It’s the only way they can assure that the type of care they receive is the type of care they want.”

Payn said she welcomes the opportunity to present to small groups. In addition to three monthly workshops scheduled with Doylestown Health, she regularly holds workshops at churches, senior centers and at Health Connections by Doylestown Health in the Warminster ShopRite.