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Published on November 07, 2011

National Home Care/Hospice Month: The Importance of Advance Directives

In Brief          

  • Each November, the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Association (NHPCO) celebrate National Home Care and Hospice Month to honor caregiving heroes who make a remarkable difference in the lives of patients and the families they serve.
  • Advance directives are a set of legal documents that can allow you to determine the type of end-of-life care that you wish to receive ahead of time.
  • Before making any decisions about your end-of-life care, it is important to speak with a palliative care physician, nurse or other palliative care team member.

Each November, the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Association (NHPCO) celebrate National Home Care and Hospice Month to honor caregiving heroes who make a remarkable difference in the lives of patients and the families they serve. In honor of this observance, it’s important to remember the significance of having advance directives.

“Topics about serious illness and death aren't the easiest to discuss,” says Terry Sandman, R.N.-BC, CHPN, coordinator of Palliative Care at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. “But having advance directives in place before you become hurt or too ill to convey your wishes can make things easier for you and your family.”

Advance directives are a set of legal documents that can allow you to determine the type of end-of-life care that you wish to receive. It is important for all adults to have advance directives, no matter what age they are. It is an important way to communicate with your family, friends and healthcare professionals. If you don't have advance directives in place, you may find yourself in a situation in which you're unable to communicate your wishes regarding the extent of treatment efforts, such as resuscitation and life-support machines.

“Before making any decisions about your end-of-life care, it is important to speak with a palliative care physician, nurse or other palliative care team member,” says Colleen McGee, D.O., medical director of Palliative Care Services at Delaware County Memorial Hospital. “Palliative care team members are trained to help patients, family members and friends in situations where a life-changing illness or diagnosis has occurred.

Team members can help you to phrase your requests in a way that makes sense to other healthcare professionals and they can answer any questions that you may have. It’s also important that you discuss your wishes with your family and friends so that they can help you to decide what may be best for you.”

There are two types of advance directives: a living will, which is a written, legal document that spells out the types of medical treatments and life-sustaining measures you do and do not want when you cannot speak for yourself and if you have an end-stage medical condition or are permanently unconscious; and a medical power of attorney (POA), which is a legal document that designates an individual to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event that you are unable to do so.

Advance directive forms are available via:

  • State healthcare association websites.
  • Community and senior services organizations.
  • Attorneys handling wills, estates, probate and elder law matters.
  • Geriatric care managers.
  • Hospitals or hospice programs.

“Different states require certain signatures and may even require your advance directive forms to be notarized,” says Margie Harper, R.N., B.S.N., CHPN, coordinator of Palliative Care at Delaware County Memorial Hospital. “When your advance directive forms are finished being written, it is important to keep the original document in a safe and secure place. You should also give a copy to your doctor, your medical power of attorney, and your lawyer. Upon every admission to the hospital, you will be asked if you have one and to provide your advance directive forms.”

“Thinking about and discussing your own death can be a difficult thing to do,” says Jane Hanahan, R.N., administrative director of CKHS Home Care and Hospice. “But it’s important to remember that talking about it does not make it happen any faster. If you have the conversation just one time with those who will be making these decisions for you, you will be giving them a wonderful gift: The peace of mind in knowing that they carried out your final wishes.”

For information about your state’s requirements when filling out an advance directive, visit your state’s website. You can also visit www.myfamilywellness.org, www.aarp.org, and www.pamedsoc.org/advancedirectives for information.

Crozer-Keystone offers home care and hospice services through our office at Drexeline Shopping Center, located at 5030 State Road, in Drexel Hill. For information, call (610) 284-0700. To schedule an appointment with a Crozer-Keystone physician and for information about services offered by the health system, call 1-800-CK-HEALTH (1-800-254-3258) or visit www.crozerkeystone.org.

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