In our efforts to bring you the importance of advance care planning through the eyes of varying individuals nationwide, we cast a wide net. Most recently we caught up with a well-respected leader in the hospice and palliative care community— Malene Davis. Davis is President & CEO of Capital Caring, one of the first and largest nonprofit providers of hospice and palliative care services in the United States, serving thousands of patients across six regional office locations throughout the metropolitan Washington, DC area. And, we were able to steal a few moments of her time to get the scoop on what advance care planning means to her. Here are some highlights from that interview:
Q: What was it like when you first completed your advance directive?
A: I was naturally a little hesitant. This is not an easy thing to approach for anyone, no matter what your age, or your profession. But I also felt empowered because I knew I was planning ahead in the event my health was compromised to a point where I couldn’t make decisions anymore. I wanted my family to feel assured that things were in order so they will never have to guess about what decision to make, especially during an emotionally charged time.
Q: Have you ever helped another person complete an advance directive?
A: Yes, as a clinical health care professional with over 20 years of experience and as a leader in hospice care, I have helped numerous patients complete advance directives. Often there was a natural timidity about completing these, but once people took the hardest step—making the decision to complete an advance directive—the rest fell neatly into place.
Q: How was that experience different from completing your own?
A: In both cases I felt like I was doing the ‘right thing’ for the families involved, but of course, on a personal level, it hits home very profoundly. [However,] it is so very rewarding for me to watch a patient and family communicate openly and honestly about what the patient wants at a time when folks are still in a fairly stable place. That way, the patient’s wishes are respected and families can remain calm when their loved one is no longer able to make tough, often emotionally-laden decisions.
Q: What advise do you have for people considering completing their advance directive, but who are intimidated?
A: Plainly and simply, don’t be intimidated. By shying away from completing an advance directive, you are setting your family up for a potential crisis during an already tough time for everyone. I would think of it like this: if you know you are going to have a baby but don’t plan to have a crib ready or diapers on hand when the baby arrives home, there will clearly be a lot of unnecessary stress involved because you didn’t do basic planning. We should treat the later phase of life with the same dignity, respect and frankly, sensitivity.
Q: Why do you think the National Healthcare Decisions Day initiative is important?
A: Our society is still uncomfortable talking about advance directives and the later stage of life. As our nation’s aging population surges, we have to begin talking about these issues in a way that is not only comfortable semantically, but that is practical. We need to equip our society with the tools and resources they need to plan ahead…the advance directive is a critical one!
Photo from American Pain Foundation