It’s Always Too Early Until It’s Too Late / by Joe Furia

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Imagine having someone else dictate how you’re going to spend the final days of your life.

Think about it. We spend our entire adult lives making decisions about what we want out of life, and plans for how we’re going to make it happen. We make college and career plans; financial and family plans; and plans B, C and D for when things don’t go according to plan. And while we may lean on others for advice and guidance in these situations, ultimately, we are in control – and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Shouldn’t the same be true when it comes to our healthcare, particularly at the end of our lives?

The unfortunate reality is that too many people spend their final moments in a setting and receiving treatment that is chosen for them, not by them. The reason, more often than not, is a failure to plan.

It could be a lack of education and awareness – the fact that many patients simply don’t know what options exist for end-of-life care, and how to go about ensuring their wishes are met. It could be lack of empowerment – perhaps people know their options, but assume medical experts are better equipped to make such judgments. Or it could just be that talking about end-of-life preparations is an uncomfortable conversation better left for another time.

Here’s the thing about end-of-life planning, though: It’s always too early until it’s too late.

That’s been one of our guiding themes at AzHHA this past month, as we commemorated Arizona's Healthcare Decisions Month – an opportunity to shine a light on the importance of advance care planning; to empower people to make known their healthcare wants and needs to family members and healthcare providers; and ultimately, to encourage people to take charge of their healthcare to the very end.

It’s also been a driving force behind one of our major initiatives – Thoughtful Life Conversations (TLC). Sponsored and led by AzHHA in partnership with healthcare leaders, providers and community representatives from across Arizona, this program reflects our shared commitment and responsibility to radically improve end-of-life care for Arizonans.

From where I sit, we have made excellent progress with TLC so far – in large part because of our ability to activate on the ground practical action, such as educating providers and engaging communities via our $1 million Lovell Foundation grant.

But there is so much more to be done. For example: A2015 Kaiser Family Foundation Tracking Poll revealed that only 29% of people over 65 have discussed end-of-life care wishes with their physician and more than 40% have not completed an advance care directive, commonly known as a living will. Here in our state, most healthcare experts believe that Arizona has an even lower level of participation.

Through our TLC program, AzHHA is committed to breaking down societal barriers – informing and inspiring Arizonans to make decisions about their end-of-life care while they still have that ability.

Arizona Healthcare Decisions Month may be behind us, but our work to improve end-of-life care is just beginning. And you can be part of the effort. If you haven’t done so already, engage in a conversation to make sure that your end-of-life care wishes are explored and communicated.  Memorialize these wishes in documents that will allow these to be honored, such as a healthcare directive or appointing someone to be your Healthcare Power of Attorney.

Resources are available at our website-www.thoughtfullifeconversations.org, or contact us if you want to chat with one of our staff about tools you might use.

The time is now to have the conversation.