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Advanced care planning: Are your affairs in order if the unthinkable should happen?

Rebecca Barnabi

Do your family and friends know your wishes if you are in an accident or seriously injured?

This week is Advanced Care Planning Week at Sentara Healthcare, and trained professionals are ready to help you make decisions now in the event you cannot do so later.

A long-standing tradition, the week, which is April 17 to 21 this year, served as a model for National Healthcare Decisions Day on April 16.

During the week, representatives from Sentara RMH Medical Center Chaplaincy Services are available from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to speak in person about advanced care plans for you or a loved one.

“People of all ages are gravely injured or become critically ill every day,” Katy Trapp, director of the Sentara Center for Health Care Ethics, which oversees advance care planning, said. “Those patients need someone to make critical health care decisions if they’re unconscious, and parents, siblings and spouses may not be the best advocates due to their emotions.”

Sentara hopes to appeal to a new generation to think about health care decision making when they cannot speak for themselves. This includes everyone over age 18.

“It’s an important part of ‘adulting’,” Robin Martin, Manager Chaplaincy Services at Sentara RMH Medical Center, said. “Although it’s an easy thing to put off doing, you have to get it done before you need it, because by the time you need it, it’s too late to make your choices known. Your decisions matter.”

Jennifer Bryant, Nurse Practitioner for Sentara RMH Palliative Care Specialists, said that no one can predict what may happen tomorrow, but a serious accident or injury could happen to anyone.

“An Advance Care Plan is one of the best gifts we can give our loved ones and ourselves to reduce the burden on our families and ensure our wishes are honored,” Bryant said.

Angry disagreements can arise from aggressive medical intervention or comfort care and letting nature take its course toward recovery or death.

“An advance care plan is a gift of certainty for your family,” Trapp said. “The time to communicate your health care wishes is not when you’re in the hospital, but when you’re healthy and able to sit down with your family and say, ‘Let’s TALK.’”

“Let’s TALK” is a Sentara program which encourages candid conversations about health care wishes and choosing a trusted decision maker. TALK stands for: Take time to have the conversation. Always be open and honest. Leave no doubt about your wishes. Keep your documents up to date.

Current and accessible advance care planning (ACP) documents are important should you change your mind or designate a new decision maker. Doctors will need to know your stated wishes are current and the person representing you is empowered to do so. Advanced care planning is not just about dying, but about receiving the care you want, regardless of the outcome. Sentara hospital chaplains are trained to facilitate Advance Care Planning, as well as other trained facilitators at most Sentara hospitals.

Once you fill out the document, Sentara files it with the U.S. Advance Care Plan Registry for free as a public service, which is accessible by participating hospitals timely whether patients are home or traveling.

Sentara launched Advanced Care Planning Week in 2004.

“Advance care planning as soon as you are an adult, then adjusting your plan when needed as you go through life, helps you be prepared for the unexpected,” Martin said.

The Sentara Center for Healthcare Ethics maintains an average of 50,000 ACP documents. Trained facilitators are available to help patients fill out ACP documents for Virginia and North Carolina.

“We’re focusing on the need for everyone, regardless of age, to have the TALK and file an advance care plan,” Trapp said. “We encourage everyone to give their family the gift of certainty about their health care wishes.”

Sentara RMH Medical Center Chaplaincy Services can be reached at 540-689-1670 or online at Sentara.com.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.