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May: Message from the President – Stephen B. McPherson

May 1, 2012

I believe it was Ben Franklin who said there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. Everyone knows the filing date for income taxes is April 15. However, you may not know that April 16 is becoming known as “National Healthcare Decisions Day,” thanks to a grassroots effort among healthcare and hospice professionals to promote the importance of making one’s preferences known regarding their end-of-life care.

Have you thought about this? Granted, it’s not an easy subject to broach. But what are your wishes about the kind of care you would want at the end of life? And, most important, what if you weren’t able to communicate what those wishes – also known as advanced directives – were? Have you written them down and shared them with your family and doctor?

A few weeks ago, Masonicare hosted a community education program to raise awareness of this issue. Our program featured a panel of experts and was moderated by Susan Adams, VP and Regional Administrator for Masonicare Home Health & Hospice. Those in attendance learned a lot – I know I did – from our panelists.

Suzanne Nolan, board-certified chaplain at St. Francis Hospital, talked about her own advanced directives, first written when she was just 35 and newly diagnosed with a leukemia that gave her a 50-50 chance of survival.

Beverly Bryda, head social worker at Masonicare Health Center, discussed how communicating what your wishes are gives your family a “gift” by freeing them from difficult or divisive decisions at a time already fraught with emotion.

Vicki Gold, a Hamden resident whose parents had lived at Ashlar Village, discussed the hospice services her father received at Masonicare Health Center and how they supported his end-of-life choices, so much so that at his memorial service last year, his close friend said, “Your father not only taught us how to live, he also taught us how to die.”

Dr. Kris Kuhn, geriatrician, talked about the physician’s role in identifying end-stage symptoms, communicating with families and the challenge of interpreting wishes that have not been expressed.

Susan Nobleman, elderlaw attorney based in Hamden, discussed the Living Will and how to specify your wishes as well as some of her practical experiences documenting and ensuring wishes are adhered to.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I encourage you to plan ahead. For more information, you can go to www.masonicare.org and scroll down to our free e-book, Advanced Care Planning. There are many other helpful sites out there as well including www.aarp.org/families/end_life andwww.ABAnet.org/aging/toolkit/. Don’t wait until you or a loved one has received a grim diagnosis to make your healthcare choices known. Do it now, update it as needed and let your loved ones and doctors know.