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national healthcare decisions day flyer

We plan for marriages, births and graduations, but studies show that less than one-third of Americans plan for one of the most important life events of all — the end.

National Healthcare Decisions Day, which is being celebrated for a full week this year, from April 16 to 22, aims to encourage all Americans to start the difficult, but necessary, conversation about death with their loved ones, specifically about health care decision-making at the end of life.

The Patient Self-Determination Act of 1990 gave every American the right to share his or her future health care wishes in an “advance directive.” An advance directive, often called a living will, is quite simply a written document stating a person’s wishes about medical treatment. These documents are meant to clearly communicate a person’s wishes to family, friends and health care professionals to avoid any confusion if a health crisis occurs.

Hosparus Health, one of the largest nonprofit providers of hospice and palliative care services with headquarters in Louisville, has numerous resources to help patients and families talk about their health care wishes and craft advance directives.

We all assume we’ll be able to communicate right up until the very end. But accidents and illnesses like Alzheimer’s, ALS, stroke and cancer could rob us of our ability to speak. If that happens, who will speak for you?

According to, in 2016, 90 percent of Americans reported they had heard of a living will, and 71 percent said they had thought about their end-of-life preferences — such as whether to accept or refuse life support — but only 29 percent of those who died last year had an advance directive in place. That means only about 2,000 of the nearly 7,000 patients we serve annually have an advance directive. This disparity is why awareness is so important.

An advance directive can be very simple or very detailed. The most important item to include is to name someone as your health care advocate — a trusted family member or friend who can carry out your wishes in the event you can no longer speak for yourself. You may also include your personal values, such as whether you prefer to die at home or if you want a chaplain or other member of the clergy to be present in your final hours.

Modern medicine can do amazing things, but it does have its limits. The results of a serious illness or injury can require some very difficult decisions, such as when to refuse treatment in favor of being comfortable as your illness progresses.

Your loved ones can’t act on your wishes unless they know what they are, and it all starts with a conversation. Without that conversation, there will very likely be confusion, conflict and guilt in a situation that’s already very stressful for your loved ones. With a plan in place, they can focus on the things that matter and make the most of their time left with you.

National Healthcare Decisions Day is intended to draw attention to the resources available to help people with end of life care planning. That’s why Hosparus Health has trained social workers and other professionals on staff who can offer guidance on starting the conversation and completing an advance directive. We offer these services to anyone in the community, not just our patients.

An accident or illness can happen to anyone at any time, and waiting until then to make your wishes known could be too late. While it may seem awkward or even intimidating, talking about your end-of-life wishes now could be one of the greatest gifts you can give your family. Call us at (502) 456-5451 to find out how we can help.