The last stages of life can be an emotional and stressful time for an individual and his or her loved ones.
Having plans in place that outline wishes for end-of-life care, however, can alleviate some of this stress. An advance directive, or living will, helps families and loved ones know what kind of care one prefers as they face the end of their lives. Advance care planning ensures the individual’s treatment choices are respected.
Implemented in November 2016, AtlantiCare’s Advance Care Planning Program focuses on helping individuals make those difficult decisions surrounding end-of-life care, and promoting participation in advance care planning.
The program is currently available at AtlantiCare Physician Group in Brigantine, and at the AtlantiCare Special Care Center and Infectious Disease Clinic, both of which are located in the William L. Gormley AtlantiCare HealthPlex in Atlantic City.
“Advance care planning is an important part of your healthcare, just like exercising and eating well,” says Christeen Cornell, RN, BSN, CCM, program director, AtlantiCare Advance Care Planning. “We encourage everyone to start having the conversation. A common misbelief is that this topic is only for older or very sick people. We recommend anyone over the age of 18 consider having a plan in case of an unexpected event.”
“As an intensive care physician, I often treat patients who are unable to make these important decisions. Family members suddenly are placed in the position of having to make these decisions for them. An advance directive prevents this,” said Edward Hamaty Jr., D.O., chairman, AtlantiCare Critical Care.
He added, “I personally have an advance directive. In the event that I become incapacitated, I want my voice to be heard at the table when decisions are being made.”
Amy Waters, community grants partnership manager, AtlantiCare Foundation, recognized the importance of advance care planning when she was only 24 years old.
Waters prepared her own advance directive after her stepfather, who was only in his mid-50s at the time, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. “We knew what was happening, and the advance directive made it so we didn’t have to make decisions about what to do when the time came. It took the burden of making decisions off of us and out of our hands. It made my stepfather part of the discussion.”
While helping her mom and stepfather complete the paperwork for his advance directive, she decided to do one for herself as well. “I want people to know what my wishes are so there aren’t any questions if that time comes.”
The legal document specifies the types of medical treatment a patient wishes to receive (or not receive). It takes effect only if the patient is unable to communicate with medical providers and loved ones.
“I’ve seen firsthand how the absence of an advance directive can impact a family facing the death of a loved one – which is why I’m so passionate about everyone putting this plan in place,” said Connie Negron, office supervisor, AtlantiCare Physician Group Primary Care Plus, Brigantine. “When my husband’s parents passed without advance directives, there was a great deal of stress and disagreement that occurred. It could have been avoided. It’s so important for everyone involved to know and understand the person’s wishes in advance.”
Negron and AtlantiCare Advance Care Planning facilitator Holly Heuer meet with patients to provide education about advance care options and to assist them in completing their forms.
AtlantiCare plans to roll out the program to additional primary care and specialty care locations this summer.
Patricia Ross and her family also experienced firsthand how having an advance directive in place can make decisions easier.
About six years ago, her grandmother was sick. She spent time in the Intensive Care Unit at ARMC Mainland Campus. Ross’s parents and uncle did not have to make a decision about whether to keep her grandmother on a ventilator.
“Her doctors reinforced that she had an advance directive stating she did not want to be kept on the ventilator,” said Ross, a corporate educator with AtlantiCare. “That was her wish. Without it, there would have been uncertainty, pain, and suffering for all of us. My grandmother put that directive in place for herself, but she did it for us, too.”
AtlantiCare’s Advance Care Planning team meets with community organizations to discuss advance care planning. Cornell recently spoke with members of Zion Lutheran Church in Egg Harbor Township.
“As a faith community, we’re called to care about the entire wellness of God’s people—spiritual, mental and physical. We brought the discussion to our community because we feel that when people receive the end-of-life care they desire, it enables overall wellness for them and their loved ones,” said Pastor Kathleen Harris, noting congregants thought it was a helpful program.
In observance of National Healthcare Decisions Week (April 16-22), Cornell will deliver a presentation on advance care planning at the Atlantic City Free Public Library, 1 North Tennessee Ave. Atlantic City, NJ, on Thursday, April 20 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. A Q&A session will immediately follow the presentation. The event is free and open to the public.
Are you interested in learning more? Starting this month, AtlantiCare will offer Conversations Matter: Advance Care Planning. Certified facilitators will cover topics for the group education classes including how values and beliefs guide your care; the role of a healthcare agent; and the definition and purpose of an advance directive. This class will be free and appropriate for anyone 18 years old and older.
Meetings will take place in the AtlantiCare LifeCenter in the AtlantiCare Health Park Building 200, Suite 223 (Second Floor), in Egg Harbor Township, on the third Wednesday of every month. To register, visit the “Events and Classes” section of AtlantiCare’s website, or call the AtlantiCare Access Center at 1-888-569-1000.
To make an appointment with member of AtlantiCare’s Advance Care Planning Team, or for more information, call the AtlantiCare Access Center at 1-888-569-1000.
View or download advance care planning documents here.