“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny” – C.S. Lewis
In 2017, a nurse approached one of our volunteers during National Healthcare Decisions Week, wanting to complete her advance care directives. After her mother passed, this nurse was left to help care for her ill father during his last moments of life. During an already stressful time, the situation became more complicated when the father’s girlfriend intervened and disagreed with his treatment.
This daughter had several conversations with her dad previously about his values and wishes for treatment, but unfortunately, he had never completed his advance care directives. The daughter and her dad’s girlfriend spent more time fighting about his care than supporting him during his final days. After enduring the terrible experience with her dad, this nurse completed her own directives. Then she shared her story with her co-workers, encouraging them to make sure their wishes were documented.
We hear stories like this daily. Imagine the pain and conflict that could have been avoided had this nurse’s father documented his preferences. Each of us has our own experiences that influence how we value advance care planning. This is what motivates us to help others complete their directives on National Healthcare Decisions Day.
In 2016, a collaboration was formed between Sharing the Care Campaign, UCHealth and the Larimer Advance Care Planning Team, united by a common passion to help individuals complete their advance care directives. Together, we held our community’s first National Healthcare Decisions Day event. This collaboration has helped nearly 1,000 individuals complete their directives.
Sharing the Care Campaign is a grassroots effort with a mission to “transform our shared suffering within the current health care system into meaningful patient and caregiver-driven changes to bring joy and connection into people’s lives.”
UCHealth is a health care system covering eastern Colorado, western Nebraska and southeast Wyoming. It works to “improve lives in big ways through learning, healing and discovery; in small, personal ways through human connection.”
The Health District of Northern Larimer County operates the Larimer Advance Care Planning Team, a program dedicated to making advance care planning a natural and expected part of care.
Together, these organizations are leading efforts to transform National Healthcare Decisions Day into a week-long event. They host “lunch and learn style” presentations that introduce the basics of advance care planning. Volunteers help people complete documents at their cafeteria booths from breakfast through lunch, and they tour the nursing units to reach staff directly, even the overnight shifts.
UCHealth leaders’ support has been integral in motivating others to see and understand the value in advance care planning. Last year, the CEO of UCHealth in northern Colorado publicly completed his own directives and wrote a letter to staff encouraging them to complete theirs. This support from the top of the organization is pivotal. This ripple effect leaves a mark of sustainability and builds a culture of respecting patients’ wishes and values for medical treatment.
Once someone completes their advance care directives, the documents are uploaded into their electronic health record, making them easily accessible and giving peace of mind.
Despite our success, recruiting volunteers is a challenge. Each year we learn something new, which helps us to improve the next time around. In past years, we’ve received feedback that clinic staff would like us to visit their locations to help with forms. This year, we plan to concentrate more time at those hospitals and clinics and have extended our reach to a newly opened hospital.
We leave you with one last piece of advice for planning your own community event for National Healthcare Decisions Day: Collaboration, coordination, communication, and teamwork are essential for preparation and execution. I think we all understand and value the truth in the saying “two heads are better than one.”
With new clinics and hospitals, passionate volunteers, and roughly 340,000 people left in Larimer County to complete their advance directives, we’re excited to see what stories and experiences 2019 brings.
Submitted by: Liz Morgan, RN, BSN. Coordinator of Clinical Programs.
Poudre Valley Hospital and Medical Center of the Rockies - 1024 South Lemay Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80525