To aid patients, Sutter Health employees queried about end-of-life care wishes

04/20/2012 12:00 AM

04/19/2012 11:32 PM

When she filled out her advance health care directive form the other day and had it notarized, Patti Pinkerton had no trouble defining her end-of-life wishes.

"I said I want two expert opinions before I'm declared brain-dead," said Pinkerton, 40, a registered dietitian at Sutter Solano Medical Center.

In the past week, palliative care teams at the region's seven Sutter Health hospitals have spent time promoting their "Having the Talk" program among Sutter employees, educating them on the importance of talking to their families about their end-of-life care wishes and then putting in place the appropriate documents that set out those preferences.

The campaign hasn't targeted patients but rather the employees and medical professionals themselves and their families.

Not only will that allow employees to get their documents in order so that their families can be prepared, said Catherine McGregor, Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital palliative care nurse coordinator, but they'll also gain valuable insight into the difficult decisions that patients face every day.

"They see the value of having this hard discussion that can help take the burden of these decisions off their family members," she said. "And it gives them insight into what patients' families go through when they don't have prior discussion."

She gave a brief presentation on end-of-life issues at a Sutter Auburn Faith open house earlier this week, attended by about 40 employees.

Similarly, Pinkerton filled out her forms at an open house on end-of-life preferences at Sutter's Solano hospital.

In California, the advance health care directive – basically, a power of attorney for health care – allows people to designate an agent empowered to make health care decisions for them if they're not able to, and it also allows people to specify whether they want to be resuscitated.

The California Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment form is more detailed, allowing for both the power of attorney and a range of specific preferences for care, and it also has the force of a doctor's order.

"Those preferences can be changed," said Dr. Brad Stuart, chief medical officer of Sutter Health's regional home-based services, Sutter Care at Home. "None of these things is engraved in stone.

"But we strongly urge people to make sure they exercise their own free will in making these decisions. You have a responsibility to your loved ones to decide and document ahead of time, so you don't saddle them with making decisions."

Health care providers have seen what happens in the absence of planning, even with adults who think they're too young to have to worry about end-of-life issues.

"I've seen people come in after car wrecks," Pinkerton said. "Working in the intensive care unit, I've seen a lot of things. You never know what will happen to you.

"I want to be prepared, and I don't want anybody guessing what I want."

For more information on California's advance health care directives and a copy of the form, go to http://ag.ca.gov/consumers/pdf/AHCDS1.pdf.

A copy of the California Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment form is available at www.emsa.ca.gov/pubs/pdf/ApprovedPOLSTForm.pdf.

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