March 27, 2013

April 16th is Health Care Decision Day. It’s an opportunity to jump start those conversations about end of life preferences–or advance directives–that you’ve postponed. At Hunter College, the Hunter Student Nurses Association, the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing, and the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College are sponsoring an information table at the Brookdale Campus on 25th Street and 1st Avenue on April 16th from 1:00 to 8:00, and on the Main Campus at 68th and Lexington on April 17th from noon to 6:00. The undergraduate nursing students, in addition to helping to plan the two days, will staff the tables and help people to make sense of the various forms that will be available. (The photo above was taken at a similar event that the students did earlier in the academic season at the Main Campus.)

Of course, people will be encouraged to first talk with their loved ones about their preferences for end-of-life care and what’s important to them. The forms can be completed when having these conversations and then mailed into the New York Legal Assistance Group for registering them on a secure online storage service to enable health care providers anywhere to respect and honor your health care wishes. This service is available thanks to Tina Janssen-Spinosa, JD, of the NYLAG. Or people can simply make copies and give them to their health care providers, though the online repository ensures that new providers also know your wishes.

I wrote a commentary in the American Journal of Nursing about the need for health care professionals–nurses, in particular–to lead the public conversations about the importance of these “advance directives” and received an email from Jerry Soucy, RN, BSN, CSS, CHPN, Staff Educator at the VNA Care Network and Hospice in Southborough, MA. He shared a blog post from the local chapter of the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association about MOLST–Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment–another opportunity to have patients wishes be visible to health care providers no matter where they are moved in a hospital. The post emphasizes that Susan Block’s four questions to guide end-of-life conversations are probably more important than any form:

1. What do you know about your prognosis?
2. What are your fears?
3. How do you want to spend your time?
4. How much suffering would you be willing to endure, if it offered the possibility of more time?

I’ll be sharing more information about advance directives and health care decision day, including a radio series that I’m working on for Healthstyles. In the meantime, have your completed an advance directive? If not, why not?

Diana J. Mason, PhD, RN, FAAN, Rudin Professor of Nursing