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Washington Hospital Offers Special Event to Help You Make Important Health Care Decisions

What Does it Mean to be Mortal?

What does it mean to be mortal? It means that even under the best of circumstances, life on this earth will eventually come to an end. So what do you want the end of your life to look like? Since it’s inevitable, why not take some time to think about it and let others know what your wishes are.

That’s the focus of an upcoming free event at Washington Hospital, which will feature the PBS documentary “Being Mortal” with Dr. Atul Gawande, and will include a discussion about having an advance health care directive so that others know what your intentions are in case there is ever a time when you can’t make those decisions for yourself.

The event will be held on Thursday, August 20, from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, MD Auditorium, 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West), in Fremont. To register, call 800.963.7070.

“We are all mortal and so we should all be thinking about what we would want and who we would want making health care decisions for us if we couldn’t make them for ourselves,” said Doug Van Houten, RN, assistant chief nursing officer at Washington Hospital. “Washington Hospital has launched a communitywide effort to get everyone to complete an advance health care directive because it’s the best way for those of us in the medical field to know what our patients want.”

Van Houten, who has worked in critical care medicine for more than 30 years, said the scenario is not uncommon: A patient is brought to the hospital after a serious accident or medical emergency and is unable to make decisions about their own care. With no advance directive, families are left to grapple with major health care decisions without the benefit of knowing what their loved one would want.

“We see the strain it puts on families, especially if they’ve never even talked about these issues,” he added. “Unfortunately, accidents and other health issues can happen rather suddenly, and they can happen to young people, too. One of the most frequently disabling conditions is stroke, and that happens in a split second. That’s why it’s so important to have a designated decision-maker already in place.”

What is an advance directive?

An advance health care directive is a legal document that specifies who will make health care decisions for you and what type of care you would want depending on your medical situation. Everyone who participates in the seminar will receive a packet of information that includes myths and facts about advance directives, a conversation starter kit, and a legal advance health care directive form.

“Sometimes people tell me they haven’t completed an advance directive because they don’t want to go to a lawyer or a notary,” Van Houten said. “But that is not really necessary. You can do it at home. You just need two witnesses to sign the form.”

According to a survey by the California Healthcare Foundation, 60 percent of people say that making sure their family is not burdened by tough decisions is extremely important, yet 56 percent have not communicated their end-of-life wishes. The same survey showed that while 82 percent of people say it’s important to put their wishes in writing, only 23 percent have actually done it.

Van Houten said it can be very difficult for people to think about these issues or get the conversation started with loved ones. That’s why the packet includes a conversation starter kit that asks a series of question to help you think it through and talk about it with others.

“It’s really important to get the conversation started so you can determine who is the best person to be making health care decisions for you,” he added. “Coming to this event with your spouse or other family and friends could be a good way to begin the conversation.”

He said sometimes people think an advance directive is similar to a DNR, or do-not-resuscitate order, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“An advance health care directive empowers you to have a say in your care even if you can’t make those decisions for yourself,” Van Houten explained. “That could mean you want every treatment option possible to prolong your life. The key is it puts your wishes in writing and designates someone you trust to make those decisions for you. It is a way to ensure that you get the care you want.”

Click here for more information and links to advance health care directive forms.