Archive for April, 2018

Tara Graham: When the unexpected happens, what’s your plan?

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Tara Graham, MSW, LICSW, LNHA, who is executive director of the Hospice and Palliative Care Program of the VNA of Chittenden and Grand Isle Counties, Vermont’s oldest and largest non-profit home health and hospice agency.

It’s National Healthcare Decisions Week. Who’s Your Person? What’s Your Plan?

It’s a simple yet vitally important question all Vermonters over 18 should be able to answer. If you are unable to speak for yourself due to incapacitating illness or injury, who will speak for you? Who will ensure the treatment you receive – or decline – reflects your beliefs and preferences?

In my work as Executive Director of the Hospice and Palliative Care Program at the VNA of Chittenden and Grand Isle Counties, I engage with individuals and families facing life-limiting illness every day. Conversations about wishes, values and preferences at the end of life are a necessary part of the hospice philosophy of care. These conversations can be at once routine and profound. The process of dying is a daily part of my life and I realize that this is not true for most people – it isn’t even consistent among those closest to me personally.

For many, talking about debilitating illness or injury and death is completely foreign and something to be avoided. It’s uncomfortable, some may even say a little morbid. But here’s the thing: I believe it is a person’s innate right to choose the direction of their lives until the moment he or she dies, regardless of their ability to communicate their needs. We all hope to never have a serious car accident, but we purchase car insurance so we are prepared should the unexpected happen. Advance care planning – making your healthcare wishes known – is like an insurance policy against unwanted medical treatment and interventions during times of tremendous stress and uncertainty.

Despite recent gains in public awareness of the need for advance care planning, studies indicate the majority of Vermonters, and in fact most Americans, have not exercised their right to make decisions about their healthcare in the event they cannot speak for themselves. By normalizing conversations around advance care planning, and making our wishes known to loved ones and our healthcare providers, we can all be better prepared to deal with the unexpected.

I have had the privilege of hearing about people’s fears throughout my career as a social worker. Over and over again, the theme of losing capacity or loss of control is consistently at the top. Even my dad, when faced with a terminal diagnosis of glioblastoma, who knew intuitively when he no longer wanted to pursue curative treatment, so he could focus instead on quality of life for his remaining days, found himself having to explain his decision to family and friends. My dad was able to make his wishes known. Thankfully, he also had an advance directive in place in the event he became unable to speak for himself and my mother and sisters needed to make healthcare decisions for him. He gave us the gift of certainty.

Imagine if we could chart a path, lay out scenarios and share with those that love us about how to represent us at a time when we might not be able to represent ourselves? This is a very real, obtainable possibility.

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Advance Care Planning: Reminder for YOU to Have the Conversation

By Cozzie M. King, National Coalition for Hospice and Palliative Care

The scenario generally plays out the same. A person becomes ill…too ill to make decisions for themselves…too ill to communicate with the attending medical staff. Nearby family rush to the hospital bedside. The physician explains what’s happening to the family. Things aren’t looking good or the medical terminology is not easy to understand. After some time, the family is left to make decisions for their seriously ill loved one. Decisions that have not been discussed or thought about prior to this point. What do we do? Who has the final say? Things normally go downhill from here. You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. Medical staff dread it. No one wins. Making healthcare decision at the hospital bedside is not the right time. These conversations need to happen before the crisis, not during.

Speak Up

As a mom, sister, daughter, past and future caregiver, I understand the importance of having conversations about my future healthcare decisions with my family and friends. These conversations can be hard to begin. However, there are many resources, tools and games that help families have these talks in creative ways. Over the years, I have facilitated several talks on how to plan and communicate your future healthcare decisions.  One of my personal favorite resources is the Speak Up video. This video is one of the tools I consistently use when explaining why it’s so important to have the conversation and complete an advance directive.  I encourage you to post and share this video with your family and friends on Facebook. They’ll thank you later. The message is short and simple.  Check it out:

Click to watch NHDD Speak Up Video

As we advocate for more families to participate in advance care planning, keep it simple. I remind my family and friends that advance care planning is much more than completing a form. It really is more about the conversations you have before and after any document is completed.

Lead By Example

April 16th is National Health Care Decisions Day (NHDD) and this year’s theme is, “It always seems too early, until it’s too late.” NHDD is a call to action for EVERYONE to:

→Think about your beliefs and values,
→Write them down,
→Choose a healthcare proxy (someone who speaks for you if you are not able),
→Complete an advance directive, and
→Share with your healthcare proxy, family and doctors.

The purpose of NHDD is to inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning – and most importantly, to encourage people to express their wishes regarding healthcare and for providers and health care organizations to respect those wishes, whatever they may be. As someone in the health care field,  be sure to complete your advance directive and encourage your colleagues and loved ones to do the same. Practice what you preach. Read related story in TMC News

 

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Help Your Employees Deal with Grief

Published in MultiBriefs By Lisa Mulcahy

It’s a common scenario, unfortunately. One of the best members of your team suffers the loss of a spouse, parent, sibling or child. Corporations, of course, allow for some bereavement time, but experts say the process of working through the initial stages of grief can last on average between six months and a year, and in some cases even longer.

How do you handle it if this employee breaks down in tears in a meeting? What if his work is temporarily not up to par? How can you best encourage your staff to show compassion and support for her at this difficult time?

Here are five compassionate strategies for helping your workers cope emotionally as they navigate their duties as productively as possible through a profoundly difficult time.

  1. Send condolences

First, it’s a must to send appropriate condolences to your employee in the early days of her initial bereavement. This means a heartfelt sympathy card and flowers sent on behalf of your entire staff. Your employees should also be allowed and encouraged to express their individual sympathy as well.

If a wake and/or funeral is open to the public, attending these services is a strong and supportive gesture you and your employees can also make to show care and respect.

  1. Have a productive face-to-face

The day your employee returns to work, ask him to sit down with you in your office. Express your condolences with sensitivity, and express your sincere desire to support him as he re-acclimates to the workplace.

Ask him directly what he needs. Is it a gradual re-entry into his responsibilities? If so, delegate some of his project work temporarily. Is it more time off? Work with him to see if personal days or vacation time could be used for this purpose.

Listen to what he tells you, and let him know you are here to make things as easy as possible. The Society For Human Resource Management has published some helpful information regarding respite time for grieving workers.

  1. Implement a kindness policy

Encourage your staff to show compassion and offer assistance openly to this employee — and let everyone know this policy will apply to anyone dealing with a loss in the future as well. Grieving professionals repeatedly report in studies that compassion shown by co-workers has a powerful effect on their psyche as they heal, and lets them feel supported so they are as productive as possible. Two interesting pieces of research touch on this concept.

Your employee may become emotional at times during her workday, maybe even crying openly because she can’t help herself. Never judge this understandable behavior — instead, let her know it’s perfectly fine to excuse herself for a short time whenever she needs to. Encourage her co-workers to lend her a hand with supportive words whenever they think she’s struggling, too.

  1. Double-check without judgment

Take the time to follow up on your employee’s work to make sure there are no major mistakes (there will probably be minor ones), but don’t make a big deal out of doing so. If bigger mistakes happen, reassure your employee that you understand this is a temporary situation, and assign a second worker or workers to kindly help him with tasks. This technique can quickly get him back on track without any awkwardness.

  1. Praise her strength

Grieving people can use all the positive feedback you can provide. Don’t hold back on a compliment as to how well she handled a presentation — this will give her confidence as she tackles her next task. At the same time, don’t overdo your praise — your employee doesn’t want to feel singled out as “the griever” in your office who needs to be handled with kid gloves.

Treat her kindly but normally. You’ll be helping her feel more like herself, so she can concentrate well, accomplish more and continue to feel better.

Lisa Mulcahy is an internationally established health writer whose credits include the Los Angeles Times. Redbook, Glamour, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Health, Good Housekeeping, Parde and Seventeen.

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