Empath Health Community Partnership Specialist Kelly Siegel

Talking with loved ones about the end of life is not a conversation most people want to have. It can be a difficult discussion, but it is one that is increasing in importance. A serious accident, injury or, as we are seeing now with COVID-19, a critical illness can happen at any time.

Advance care planning is essential in ensuring your wishes are carried out at the end of life. This process is a way to think about and record what kind of medical care you want to receive should you become unable to make your decisions due to life-limiting illness or injury.

Advance directive is the broad term for the set of documents that give instructions on what to do if you are unable to make your own medical decisions. It typically includes the designation of the healthcare surrogate who will act on your behalf and a living will which outlines how you want decisions to be made.

While normally thought of as something for the sick or elderly, anyone age 18 or older is eligible, and recommended, to create an advance directive. With the traumatic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever for people of all ages to document their wishes, especially those at high risk of becoming critically ill from the virus. This includes frontline healthcare workers and other essential workers, as well as seniors and people with other health problems.

Empath Health has resources for completing advance directives, including a planning toolkit and trained facilitators to guide you through the process from answering your questions to documenting your wishes.

“So many people start the process but don’t finish,” says Kelly Siegel, community partnership specialist for Empath Health. “A trained facilitator can provide guidance to anyone who might need the extra help.”

Without an advance directive in place, the State of Florida has an established hierarchy of who can make medical decisions for you. This may not be the person who knows you best or has a strong enough personality to push for your best interests and dynamics, such as long-term partnerships where there is no marriage are often not taken into account. Creating a plan allows you to decide which person is best suited for carrying out your wishes.

“The end of life is often a difficult time for families. Having a document that spells everything out in black and white reinforces the idea that the choices being made are really honoring your wishes,” adds Siegel.

A few things to keep in mind about advance directives:

  • You don’t need an attorney to create a living will.
  • Your living will should be easily accessible.
    • Do not keep it in a safe deposit box.
    • Do keep it with insurance papers and give a copy to your healthcare surrogate, a backup person and your primary care provider.
  • Bring a copy with you if you are going to the hospital.
  • Review it regularly. Every 10 years is a good rule of thumb, as well as when there is a change in your marital status or health or the health of your healthcare surrogate.

“We are available to answer questions, provide documents and can help with their completion,” adds Siegel. “We just want people to have a living will.”

Start Planning Today

To learn more about how Empath Health can help with Advance Care Planning, contact Kelly Siegel at (727) 523-4194 or KellySiegel@EmpathHealth.org. For Spanish resources, contact Maria Pepe at (727) 479-7071 or MariaPepe@empathhealth.org.