By Teri Metropulos, CSW-MAC, hospice manager, ThedaCare At Home

We are quickly approaching National Health Care Decisions Day on April 16, a day set aside to educate and empower people and their care providers about the importance of advance care planning.

The business of this blog is to discuss the importance of a document called the Power of Attorney for Health Care, or POA-HC. A POA-HC is a document that you, as an adult age 18+ (the “principal”) completes and signs, naming another individual (the “agent”) to make your health care decisions for you if you ever become unable to make those decisions for yourself.

Never plan on becoming incapacitated? Did you think a POA-HC was just for old people? Me, too, but just think about a few situations where you, at any age, might need a POA-HC:

●  A car, ATV, or snowmobile accident that leaves you in a coma
●  A prolonged bad reaction to a drug
●  An injury sustained in a violent crime
●  A life-threatening event, like a stroke or progressive disease

This is big stuff. You are now an adult, or you love someone who is becoming an adult, graduating from high school, and maybe even heading off to college.

Now is the time to make two more big adult decisions. First, decide to fill out the POA-HC form; second, decide who will be your agent and have a meaningful discussion with that person about your wishes.

Here’s why you should fill out the form:

●  That whole “next of kin” idea simply does not apply in modern times. In Wisconsin, a family member is not automatically authorized to make health care decisions for you unless you complete a POA-HC document naming that person as your agent.

●  It’s not just about end-of-life care. Hopefully you will recover from your health crisis. The POA-HC is about getting you the care you need (and want!) when you can’t speak for yourself.

●  Your family may have to go to court to appoint a guardian for you without a POA-HC in place. This process can be costly, time-consuming, cumbersome, and emotionally draining.

●  A court-appointed guardian may not be the person you would have chosen. Even worse, the person chosen may have no idea of your wishes or what care you might or might not want.

Here’s why you should choose your agent carefully and have a good talk with him or her:

●  Your agent, upon being activated as your POA-HC, might make some very important decisions for you regarding choosing a doctor, treating a medical condition, managing pain, maintaining or refusing artificial hydration and nutrition, and consenting to or refusing surgery.

●  You need to be confident that your agent will follow your wishes. He or she should be able to resist pressure to influence your choices from friends and family. Nor should the agent make decisions about your care according to his or her own ideas, only yours.

●  Your agent should be capable of dealing with hospitals, doctors, and stressful health care situations and understand the choices surrounding your particular injury or condition.

●  Your agent should be assertive. He or she should be able to ensure that you are being treated properly and insist on full, open, and transparent communication with your care providers.

●  Your agent should live nearby or be willing to travel if you need him or her.

To be deemed incapacitated, two physicians must personally examine you and certify that you can no longer receive, evaluate, and communicate your health care wishes. Rest assured, despite creating the document, you keep your right to make your health care decisions as long as you are able. You can also update your POA-HC at any time to change your agent or add specific instructions.

How to Prepare and Submit a POA-HC

Log on to www.fvcacp.org, the Fox Valley Coalition for Advanced Care Planning (FVCACP) website.

Don’t just fill out the form. Take time to discuss your wishes. Remember, the POA-HC is only as good as the effort you put into thinking about your own wishes and communicating them to your agent. Seek help to facilitate your decisions and discussion with your agent. The FVCACP offers no-charge facilitators who will speak to both individuals and groups. There are also regularly scheduled sessions you can join at the major health care providers in the area.

Talk with your entire family about your wishes. This is very important! When everyone is on the same page, it prevents family discord in the future, as in, “He never said that … that’s not what he told me … he didn’t mean it that way.” In a potentially chaotic and emotional time, your pre-planning will provide an element of peace.

Use the online resources to guide you if you do not choose to schedule an in-person facilitation.

Download the POA-HC form. You will need witnesses to your signature, but you do not need a lawyer’s or notary public’s services to make it official. The same form is also on the Valley VNA website.

Hand deliver your completed POA-HC to your doctor’s office or mail or fax it to your health system’s medical records office. Keep a copy for yourself and certainly for your health care agent.

Thoughtfully prepare your POA-HC to protect yourself and your loved ones in the midst of a health care crisis. You’ve made it this far. Be an adult. Because you are one.