Social workers, doctors encourage everyone to prepare advanced directive documents

Social workers, doctors encourage everyone to prepare advanced directive documents

Lynn Zima, a social worker for Dean Clinic, says not nearly enough people talk about or prepare for the worst.

“In general, people think about this document as needed when you’re elderly,” Zima said.

While she admits the topic of a medical crisis can be daunting, Zima said legal documentation of your desires is “a gift to your family.” She said having such a document for her own mother was comforting as her health recently declined. Zima’s mom died last week.

“It helped to feel a bit more sure that I knew what she wanted,” Zima said. “Not what I wanted for her, but what she wanted.”

The document, called a power of attorney for health care, designates who a person would want to make major care decisions for them in the event that they may not be physically or mentally capable to do so.

“It’s empowering you, but just as importantly it’s empowering your family to understand what your beliefs are,” Zima said.

At the very least, Zima said the documentation can spark important conversations between loved ones about treatments they want or don’t want in the case of an emergency. Zima said having the legal document in place can save your family time, money and additional grief. Sometimes, without a power of attorney form that is completed correctly, loved ones have to go to court to settle who should take charge of care.

“It’s a very, very sobering experience for families to have to go through, and we really want to empower families and patients at Dean to do it for their families, if not for themselves, because the family is who has to pick up the pieces and potentially seek guardianship,” Zima said.

The form Zima uses with patients includes an addendum that goes into a little more detail about what a person might want in emergency care, including life support preferences, antibiotics and whether or not to use feeding tubes.

Dr. Philip Baine, the division chief of internal medicine at Dean, said the power of attorney is part of important advanced planning a person should do to help and protect their loved ones. He’s seeing more and more patients open to the conversation, and he believes documenting everyone’s wishes will be a “herculean effort” as the elderly population grows

“The number of people that I see every day who don’t want to talk about it is dwindling because people do want to talk about it,” Baine said.

Thursday is National Healthcare Decisions Day, and Dean-St. Mary’s is offering free help to people who want to complete their health care power of attorney forms

Help will be available at the following locations and times:

St. Mary’s Hospital, Madison: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. St. Claire’s Hospital, Baraboo: 9 a.m. to noon St. Mary’s Janesville Hospital: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dean Clinic-East: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dean Clinic-Fish Hatchery: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Dean & St. Mary’s Outpatient Center: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.