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national hospice and palliative care organization


NHDD Insider Chats: Q&A with NHDD Executive Committee Member Kathy Brandt (Part 1)

2011 marks the fourth annual National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) and we – the NHDD staff – are celebrating by working to ensure that April 16, 2011 is the best NHDD to date! In that spirit, we are touching base with some of our veteran supporters and asking for their perspectives on the NHDD initiative and mission. If you’ve been following this blog, you probably know that we’re also picking these highly respected healthcare professionals and NHDD advocates’ brains about their personal advance directive experiences.

Most recently, we caught up with National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s (NHPCO) Senior Vice President of Education and Engagement (and NHDD Executive Committee Member) Kathy Brandt. Kathy had so much to share with us about the NHDD initiative and framing the national debate on advance directives that we’re sharing her insights in a two-day Q&A feature. Here’s part one of our chat with the NHDD veteran supporter and advocate:

Q: [Kathy] you’ve been in the healthcare industry, particularly in the hospice field, for over 20 years. How has that fueled your dedication to the raising the public profile of advance directives and their importance?

A: Having worked at the hospice that cared for Terri Schiavo (when she was admitted to the program) and then working at NHPCO during the media frenzy during her last weeks of life, further intensified my commitment to advance care planning.

During the last weeks of Terri's life as her family’s heart-wrenching drama played out on national television, we received literally thousands of emails and calls each days from people wanting to know how to get an advance directive. Yet despite all this free publicity regarding the importance of documenting care wishes, the percentage of Americans who have completed an advance directive has not increased since the days before Terri died.

That is why NHPCO and I are committed to the NHDD initiative. Most people won't or can't talk about these issues - we need to promote this topic far and wide.

Q: As a member of the NHDD Executive Committee, how will you measure the growth and success of NHDD in the next five to 10 years?

I'd love to come to a time when everyone facing every developmental and life-milestone - sees advance care planning as a routine conversation. Marriage, birth of a child, moving, diagnosis of a chronic or life-limiting illness, divorce, graduation - these are all sentential events that would be wonderful triggers for these important conversations and the documentation of wishes. People should be asked about their wishes and who they want to make decisions every time they renew their driver’s license - like organ donation.

Q: With your aforementioned goal in mind, can you share your hopes for NHDD and advance care planning in 2011?

A: I have always believed that a big piece of our early NHDD work was in preparation for our Tipping Point. As described in Malcolm Gladwell's book, the Tipping Point comes at “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point" of a movement or social phenomena that ultimately changes the culture of a group.

During those two weeks in March 2005 when the world was focused on the hospice in Florida that was caring for Terri Schiavo, I wondered if we had finally reached that Tipping Point in terms of public acceptance of and investment in advance care planning. However, research on the utilization of advance care planning has demonstrated that we absolutely aren't there yet. The recent fire storm around death panels is further proof that we have a long way to go. My hope is that folks who were appalled by the negative spin associated with advance care planning during health reform debates can be energized to engage their families, friends and communities in advance care planning this year.

Check out tomorrow’s morning post for part two of our NHDD Insider Chat with NHDD Executive Committee Member and NHPCO Senior Vice President Kathy Brandt.