Recent family conflict in the final weeks of radio legend Casey Kasem's life ended his story with dissonance.
Manager of Care Transitions and Social Services Stacy Knipe believes such conflict can be reduced and harmony achieved when patients plan the final chapters of life early and speak openly with family members about their healthcare wishes.
"At Susquehanna Health, we take a multidisciplinary approach to educating patients and families about what to expect in the here and now and providing information to help them make informed healthcare decisions," she said.
According to Knipe, the health system provides blank forms for preparing a living will and selecting a durable power of attorney for healthcare decisions in every patient's admission packet.
During the nursing assessment, patients may obtain a referral to discuss advance healthcare directives further with a social worker and receive assistance in filling out the forms.
Advance directives serve to inform a healthcare provider about the care a patient wishes to receive or not receive in the event that they are incapacitated and unable to communicate those wishes.
"We sit down with the patient and talk about advance directives and the importance of identifying someone who will carry out their wishes," Knipe explained. "A question that is often utilized to begin the process is, 'How do you want your final chapter to read?' We also encourage the patient to discuss their wishes with all of their family members."
Knipe said it is important to educate patients to decide in advance what types of treatment they would choose at each stage in the process. She also recommends that patients write down their healthcare wishes so their healthcare power of attorney (or healthcare agent) and family members have a document to which they can refer in the future.
Advance directives should be signed in the presence of two adult witnesses. According to Knipe, notarizing the document is not necessary in Pennsylvania, however, there is a notary on staff to authenticate the document if the patient wishes.
Although the majority of patients who request help with advance directives are older adults or patients with terminal illness, Knipe believes it is best to plan earlier rather than later. Any adult age 18 or older who is of sound mind can make an advance directive.
"I am in my late thirties and my husband and children are aware of my healthcare wishes," she said. "I don't want them to feel guilty about whether they've made the right decisions."
Knipe said the best way to prepare is to initiate the discussion.
"If you aren't sure how to start that conversation, reach out to a spiritual leader in the community for help," she said. "A number of individuals simply contact us in Social Services to obtain more information or to request a living will packet."
Aging in America is increasing. The U.S. Census Bureau projects the elderly population will double to 83.7 million by 2050. The majority of that growth is due to the baby boomer population - individuals born between 1946 and 1964 - reaching retirement age.
As a result, Knipe anticipates healthcare options for the elderly will change significantly in the future.
"What we experience today may not be what is available tomorrow," she said. "Retirement is a very good time to be thinking about the big picture of the final years of life," she said.
Planning early, according to Knipe, is also helpful in the grieving process.
"Some of our patients received a terminal diagnosis in their 20s or 30s. Making end of life decisions when working through the grieving process is especially difficult," she explained. "It is important to start these conversations as early as you can-not just about the final chapter, but about the final chapters."
For more information about advance care planning, visit SusquehannaHealth.org or call 570-321-2151. Additional information is available at careforpa.org.
Susquehanna Health is a four-hospital integrated health system including Divine Providence Hospital, Muncy Valley Hospital, Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hospital and Williamsport Regional Medical Center.
Susquehanna Health serves patients in an 11 county region and has been recognized at the national and state levels for quality of care.
Susquehanna Health offers a wide array of services that include cancer care, heart and vascular care/heart surgery, neurosciences including neurosurgery, orthopedics, urology, OB/GYN, gastrointestinal services, behavioral health, physical rehabilitation, home care, long term care, assisted living and paramedic/ambulance services.