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Mindy Rickard helps client with advance care plan

Advance care planning in pandemic times

Make your health-care wishes known now

by Kathy Hayes

hands with advance care document“Completing your advance care planning documents is critical at any time, but during the COVID-19 pandemic it’s especially important to get them done,” says Mindy Rickard, coordinator of the Health District of Northern Larimer County’s Advance Care Planning Program.

Nobody knows that better than Kate Spruiell, who became seriously ill with COVID in March 2020. Hospitalized and sick for 11 days straight, she lost 15 pounds and experienced blackouts. “I honestly didn’t know if I would make it,” she says. Fortunately, Spruiell had worked with Rickard years earlier to prepare advance directives ensuring that her health-care agent would follow her treatment wishes if she were ever unable to make her own health-care decisions.

Larimer Advance Care Planning (LACP) is a free resource anyone can tap to learn about and complete their advance directives, such as a living will. These are legal documents that specify how you want to be treated and who you want to be your health-care decision-maker if you become seriously ill or injured.

“Mindy made it very simple,” says Spruiell. “She met with my husband and me to help us understand the forms and complete them.”

Creating advance directives begins with thinking about the kind of treatment you would want during a medical crisis and who you would want to speak for you—and then talking about it.

“I encourage people to have a conversation with their family and tell them who they’ve appointed as their health-care agent and what their wishes are if they’re unable to make decisions for themselves,” says Rickard. “It’s important to have these conversations around the kitchen table and not the ICU—and to choose an alternate agent as well.”

“Be very mindful about who you select,” advises Peggy Budai, a nurse practitioner with UCHealth’s Older Adult and Palliative Care Programs. A partner or child may not always be the best choice, because their emotions might interfere with their ability to think clearly or communicate effectively. A friend or sibling might be a better choice for your health-care agent, also known as a health-care proxy, or medical decision-maker.

“The most important part is documenting your health-care wishes, relaying that information to the people you’ve chosen to act on your behalf, and continuing that conversation,” says Budai.

If your wishes or circumstances change, you can revise your advance directives at any time.

Your health-care agent’s responsibilities kick in only when you’re unable to make your own decisions or you don’t feel well enough to make those decisions. Once you get better, as in Spruiell’s case, you can make your own decisions again.

After completing your advance directives, the final steps are to get them notarized and to your health-care agents and providers. Rickard and LACP help with that, too, scanning your documents into UCHealth and Banner Health electronic health records and providing copies for you to share with your loved ones.

Studies show that advance care planning improves patient outcomes and quality of care. It also reduces stress and the burden on families as to whether they are making the right decision.

Spruiell says she felt a weight had been lifted after completing her advance care plans with LACP. “You can’t beat the cost [free]. It’s nice to know that once you’ve made your plan, there’s somebody out there speaking on your behalf.”

Every adult 18 and older should have an advance care plan. The Health District partners with UCHealth Aspen Club and other organizations to enhance advance care planning in our community.