Advance care planning can ease the emotional burden of end-of-life decisions on family members. Advance Care Planning Week takes place April 14 through 18.

Sentara joins 'Advance Care Planning Coalition of Eastern Virginia'

Sentara Healthcare, based in Norfolk, Va., will conduct its 14th annual Advance Care Planning Awareness Week from April 14 through 18, 2014. The annual observance now coincides with National Healthcare Decisions Day on Wednesday, April 16.

Sentara is also a founding member of the new Advance Care Planning Coalition of Eastern Virginia, which also includes Bon Secours Hampton Roads, Chesapeake Regional Medical Center and Riverside Health System in Newport News, Va. The coalition is led by executive director David Murray, a certified senior advisor and experienced professional in aging services. The ‘umbrella’ agency managing finances for the coalition is the Peninsula Agency on Aging. The coalition will work to increase public awareness of Advance Care Planning among all adults over 18 years of age, and the number of people filing ACP documents.

“Patients and families make decisions about end-of-life care every day in hospitals, nursing homes and private homes,” said David Cochran, director of ethics, palliative care and advance care planning for Sentara Healthcare. “Guidance from the patient through an Advance Care Plan can ease the emotional burden and reduce disagreements.” These decisions can range from demanding every high-tech tool in the medical arsenal to prolong life, to comfort care measures designed to ease the passage from life to death.

“Comfort Care is an active protocol,” said Cochran. “It is designed to control pain and manage symptoms so  patients and families can share the highest quality time together in the time remaining.” Sentara uses a format dubbed TALK.  It’s an acronym for:

Take time to have the conversation.

Always be open and honest.

Leave no doubt about your wishes.

Keep your documents up to date.  

Advance Care Plans empower patients to direct their end-of-life care while they are able to make their wishes known. Forms include questions about pain management, IV nutrition and hydration, kidney dialysis and resuscitation after cardiac arrest, which are best answered when patients and families can discuss them. Patients can also designate an agent for healthcare decisions should they be unable to speak for themselves.

“Everyone over 18 years of age should have an advance care plan,” said Cochran. “Accidents and sudden illnesses happen to everyone in every walk of life and being prepared for the unexpected helps families cope with these events.”

Sentara offers free filing of Advance Care Plans with the U.S. Living Will Registry as a public service and maintains approximately 30,000 ACP documents within Sentara eCare®, its electronic medical record.

People who want to create an Advance Care Plan can come to any Sentara hospital information desk in Hampton Roads and northern Virginia and ask for a ‘My Advance Care Plan’ or TALK packet, which includes ACP documents to fill out. You can also arrange for assistance from a certified Advance Care Planning facilitator. To arrange an appointment call 757-252-9550.

“There’s no better gift you can give your family than your guidance,” Cochran said. “Patients with advance care plans have better deaths, and they leave their families in a more peaceful place.”