Janet Seeley was walking out of her father’s funeral with her son when she turned to him and said, ‘Oh, by the way, I want to be cremated.”
Her son looked at her, horrified, and stomped off.
Get started on advance care planning today by calling any of these community services: The UCHealth Aspen Club: 970.495.8560; Health District of Northern Larimer County: 970.482.1909; Lutheran Family Services: 303.217.5864 or 970.232.1180; SOCI: 970.449.6840.
Visit uchealth.org/aspenclub for more information, and to download The Conversation Project or advance care planning forms. Forms are also found within your My Health Connection account. And classes on advance directives are offered throughout UCHealth by searching “advance directives” at UCHealth’s classes and events page.
“I thought it was weird he was getting so upset because he had been so helpful with my father’s arrangements,” she said. “But after being trained in doing The Conversation Project, I realized I was starting on the wrong end. If I wanted to have that talk, I needed to start with saying, ‘Here are my values; what really matters to me.’ Instead, I was giving him an image of me being cremated.”
In April, organizations, individuals and businesses participate in National Healthcare Decision Day, a week-long event to bring understanding and awareness to the value of advance health care planning.
More than 90 percent of people think it’s important to talk about end-of-life care, but fewer than 30 percent actually do, according to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
UCHealth and partnering organizations, such as Larimer County Health District, use the annual event as an opportunity to get as many people — ages 18 and up — to complete their advance care directive and share those wishes with their loved ones. For UCHealth, that means reaching out to their employees.
Kevin Unger, CEO and President of UCHealth’s Poudre Valley Hospital and Medical Center of the Rockies, and his wife, Stacy, completed their directives in 2017.
“Every minute we spent on this was worth it. Hopefully, this will take some burden away from those who may have to make decisions for us in the future,” Unger said. “And going through the process myself further instills in me the importance of incorporating our patients’ wishes and bringing their voice into care.”
Advance care directives
“You must plan ahead,” said Emergency Physician Dr. Jamie Teumer. “Because more times than not, there is not time for those discussions. And if you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for your loved ones. It’s tormenting for family members to have to make those decisions.”
Advance directives, such as a Medical Durable Power of Attorney and Living Will, are legal documents allowing patients’ doctors and loved ones to know and honor a person’s wishes regarding medical treatment. The documents take effect when the patients are unable to make their own health care decisions.
Each April, UCHealth in northern Colorado offers help to employees and their families in completing these forms as part of its support of National Healthcare Decisions Day, which is on April 16, through educational booths at its campuses and informational classes, such as The Conversation Project through its Aspen Club.
UCHealth’s Aspen Club in Fort Collins, Greeley and Loveland has adopted The Conversation Project to help people have important discussions about end-of-life care with their loved ones in preparation of completing their advance directives.
Seeley grew up in a family that talked about their end-of-life wishes at the family dinner table. She thought such discussions were normal. But she later realized — both as a physician and then with her own son — that not everyone feels comfortable talking about death and dying.
“I was talking to my son like he had been at all those family dinner discussions with me,” Seeley said. “I was going about it all wrong. He didn’t want to hear any suggestion that I might die, or especially that I could become so feeble that he’d have to be making the decisions. He just couldn’t hear it.”
The paperwork is done, now what?
It is very important that people review their wishes — and the fact that they have advance directives — with their loved ones so there is no confusion in the final days.
Teumer recommends that people not only have the conversation with their family, but also with their primary care doctor or other medical professional.
UCHealth can help people complete these forms in My Health Connection, or a UCHealth chaplain can also provide more information and direction.
To help individuals take next steps when they are ready, UCHealth has new tools available through My Health Connection, the personalized and secure online access to an individual’s medical record.
Through My Health Connection, individuals can:
- Complete an electronic Medical Durable Power of Attorney (MDPOA) form to legally appoint who they trust to make medical decisions for them if they are unable to
- View and print their electronic MDPOA form
- View educational Advance Care Planning resources to learn more
- Send an on-line message to contact the Advance Care Planning Support team
- Once completed in My Health Connection, a MDPOA automatically becomes part of a patient’s medical record so that it is available for the health care team to view as part of the patient’s medical care. Patients are encouraged to share personal values, life goals and preferences regarding future medical decision making with their health care decision maker and their health care team.
“Make sure the whole family is on the same page, but get some medical input, too, so everyone has an understanding of the medical side of their directives,” Teumer said. “Get your information into your medical records — health care social workers, case managers or your primary care doctor can help you do this. Someone in the medical records department at the hospital also can help. And keep your directive in an obvious place in your home so your family members or emergency responders can find it.
“The more organized you are with this, the better off you and your family will be,” he said.