Written by Jodi Young, Clinical Manager of Social Work for Valley Health
Care Management, and co-chair of the Valley Health Advance Directive Task Force.
Have you had “the conversation?” Not the talk with your child
about the birds and the bees, but the one about what decisions you would
want to be made for you if you were ill or injured and could not speak
While making healthcare decisions can be difficult in the best of circumstances,
making decisions for others during a crisis is even more stressful. By
talking about your priorities and desires in advance of an emergency,
and documenting them in an advance directive, you will make life easier
for yourself, your family and your healthcare team should the need arise.
An advance directive is the document that states the types of interventions
and support measures you do and do not want, and names an “agent”
to speak on your behalf if you cannot speak for yourself. Your advance
directive can be scanned into your medical record at the Health Information
Management (HIM) department of any Valley Health hospital.
I had the “conversation” on our family vacation last summer.
My parents have medical problems ranging from diabetes to breast cancer.
Throw in short term memory issues and they cannot remember if they talked
with me or one of my three brothers. The conversation I facilitated included
my parents, my brothers and their wives, and my husband. We talked about
their wishes and what they would want in the event they could not speak
for themselves. We learned many other things as well. The best part of
our discussion was that all of their children and their spouses were involved
and heard the same information. Should I, as their medical power of attorney,
ever need to make those complicated decisions for my parents, I believe
my brothers will support me and those decisions because they know what
my parents would want.
Do you know who would speak on your behalf? Does that person
know that you want them to serve in this capacity? Do they feel prepared to
do so? I strongly urge every adult to choose someone to be your health
care agent, known also as a health care surrogate or medical power of
attorney. This person can be any adult over the age of 18 who will follow
your wishes. It is also wise to have a secondary decision-maker in case
your primary decision-maker isn’t available. Be sure you stay in
communication with them so that your wishes are known.
Have you completed an advance directive? Through the Patient Self-Determination
Act of 1990, Congress affirmed the right of every citizen to set forth
his or her future healthcare wishes in writing with an advance directive,
yet only about 25% of Americans have done so.
Do you want more information about beginning the conversation and completing
an advance directive? National Healthcare Decisions Day has expanded to
a week this year, April 16-22. Valley Health proudly embraces this initiative
to encourage adults to communicate and document their healthcare decisions,
during April and year-round. We are offering numerous community presentations
and staffed displays throughout our service area, as well as group and
1:1 facilitated conversations (appointment required, call 1-888-227-8088).
For a schedule and information, visit
We hope you will take the time to think about what you would want, begin
the conversation, and complete your advance directive. If we can help,
please contact us!