[The following article was written by my colleague, Elizabeth White, Certified Elder Law Attorney* of Marshall, Parker and Weber]
Many of us like to believe that we could not have a health crisis. However, statistics from the Centers for Disease Control prove otherwise. Every year in the United States 525,000 people will have their first heart attack and 620,000 people will have their first stroke. While none of us can predict the future, we can use these numbers to help prepare ourselves for the possibility of suddenly requiring health care.
Perhaps the most important aspect of you ensuring that are ready in a crisis is to name a person to help you with health care decisions and tasks ahead of time.
The legal document that allows you to name a person or persons to assist you with health care decisions is the health care power of attorney. This document is also referred to as an advance directive. A second component of an advance directive document can outline your philosophy as to end of life treatment. The writing of your wishes regarding end of life medical treatment is often referred to as a living will.
The trusted person named in your health care power of attorney is called your agent. If you cannot communicate your agent will step into your shoes and make heath care decisions based on what he or she understands to be what you would want. For example, consenting to a surgery or admitting or discharging you from a hospital.
Signing an advance directive can help avoid family conflict and the need for a court process called a guardianship. Guardianships are generally time consuming and expensive.
Another protection available to make certain that you receive the best care possible in the event of a health crisis is found in a more recent law. The Pennsylvania Caregiver Advise, Record and Enable Act (CARE Act) was signed into law on April 20, 2016, and is set to go into effect one year from that date (April 20, 2017).
The CARE Act allows you to designate a family member or other lay caregiver to assist you after a hospital discharge. The lay caregiver, with your consent, can have access to your medical records.
The CARE Act also gives your designated lay caregiver(s) an opportunity to ask questions and address concerns proactively, so they can provide with you better care at home and hopefully avoid the need for re-admission to the hospital. The lay caregiver will get instructions for after-hospital care tasks, and any necessary training needed before the lay caregiver takes on his or her caregiver role for you outside of the hospital.
If you have planned in advance of a health care crisis, including discussing your wishes with your trusted family members and executing an advance directive naming those that you trust to make those decisions, your family and caregivers will have the information they need to best handle any stressful crisis situation.
*Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation under authorization of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court