By Julie Sayre, MA, LSW, LMFT
Social Work Manager

As a social worker for Hospice of the Panhandle, I help our patients complete advance directives so that we can honor their end-of-life medical wishes. Many of our patients have not thought about what they would want for their end-of-life care before having these conversations with our staff. An advance directive is a document such as a Medical Power of Attorney or Living Will. These documents allow you to spell out who you would want to make medical decisions if you were not able to make them yourself and what kind of medical decisions you would want them to make.

I worked at Hospice of the Panhandle for 2½ years helping others complete their advance directives before I “got around” to completing my own. Completing advance directives is something people often put on their list of things they should do but never “get around” to doing it. I, just like anyone, was guilty of that. I thought I would just “get around” to it one day. I am young, healthy and had no immediate need to complete one. I went to the doctor for a visit one day and they said I needed to have surgery within a week. All of a sudden, I needed to “get around” to it now. It wasn’t until I was needing to have surgery that I made the decision to complete my Medical Power of Attorney and Living Will.

I think especially within the last year over the course of the pandemic, we have seen how even healthy individuals can become sick unexpectedly and important medical decisions need to be made quickly. We shouldn’t wait until we are sick to complete advance directives, but instead think about our choices and complete the documents while we are in good health. These documents can and should grow and evolve with you over time and circumstances.

On April 16, we recognize National Healthcare Decisions Day. This is a day to bring awareness to the importance of talking with your loved ones about your health care wishes and documenting those wishes in an advance directive. Completing advance directives are important so that your wishes for medical treatment are known by your family and medical providers. With your completed advance directives, you provide direction for your family and medical providers in what type of medical or end-of -life care you wish to have. This takes out any guessing they would need to do about how they “think” you would want your care.

Last week, I met with a patient and her daughters to complete her Combined Medical Power of Attorney and Living Will. Her daughters expressed how knowing what their mother wants at the end of life has given them peace of mind. After we completed the document, the patient said “Well, I feel better. That was something that I have always wanted to do but just kept putting it off. Kind of like the dentist.” I got a good laugh out of that. So let’s listen to her words of wisdom and stop putting things off, advance directives and the dentist alike!

Resources and forms to complete advance directives are available at WV Center for End-of-Life Care website or by contacting Hospice of the Panhandle’s Personal Resource Guide Program.

Julie Sayre is the social work manager at Hospice of the Panhandle and has worked for the organization for seven years. She is a licensed social worker and licensed marriage and family therapist. For more information on how Hospice of the Panhandle can help your family, call (304) 264-0406 or go to www.hospiceotp.org