County officials join Hospice in publicizing day to talk about health care wishes

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 11.59.31 PMSANTA CRUZ—Although “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” perhaps there is one other thing we can count on: people don’t like talking about dying.

It is, however, just that conversation that organizers of the annual National Health Care Decisions Day want Americans to start having on Saturday. 

“What we want to do is just start by bringing some awareness,” said Cathy Conway, spokeswoman for Hospice of Santa Cruz County, which is sponsoring a month-long series of free, related events throughout the county.

It’s not just for people who are sick or near the end-of-life. Anyone older than age of 18 should have one, Conway said.

Despite efforts by Hospice and an ongoing countywide initiative spearheaded by health care providers, only an estimated one in four or five people have a health directive.

“We’re trying to get people to decide before they’re in a crisis situation,” Conway said.

This year, local officials have joined in the conversation by establishing their own proclamations of Health Care Decisions Day in Santa Cruz County and the cities of Watsonville and Santa Cruz. Assemblyman Mark Stone will be attending a workshop Friday in Scotts Valley. The national theme for 2016 is: It always seems too early, until it’s too late.

“It’s good public policy,” said Cynthia Mathews, Santa Cruz mayor. “It’s really become part of what is good health care to initiate the discussion.” On a more personal level, Mathews says it can make a big difference for people to know what their loved one or patient wants when they can’t say for themselves.

In a directive, or living will, people designate a trusted person to carry out their wishes in the event of an accident or sickness that prevents them from saying how they want to be cared for.

“I’m just so grateful our parents were realistic about this,” Mathews said, noting that her and her spouse’s parents each provided practical guidance on important decisions.

The presentations and workshops by Hospice are aimed at answering questions and providing people with the resources they need to talk about the issue and put together their own health care directives.

Even more important than the document, however, is having the conversation, Conway said.“Part of the advance directive is really seeing a whole person when they can no longer speak for themselves,” she said. “What I really see is how much it can support the family and how painful it is to second guess what someone might have wanted.”

“If I’m in a horrific car accident, I don’t want my family to worry about my choices,” said Shary Farr, who has provided copies of her directive to loved ones, her doctor and the local hospital. She also keeps a copy in her glove compartment.

“Once you complete a health directive, there’s a wonderful peace of mind that can come and it’s gift for your family.

For those who can’t make one of the seven remaining workshops in April, Hospice of Santa Cruz County provides free consultations to individuals and groups all year long.

Upcoming free workshops and consultations

10 a.m. to noon, Friday—Understanding advance directives with Assemblyman Mark Stone. Brookdale Scotts Valley (formerly Oak Tree Villa), 100 Lockewood Lane, Scotts Valley.

10 a.m., Saturday—Advance directive consultations. Preregistration required. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 220 Elk St., Santa Cruz.

10 a.m. to noon, Wednesday—Advance directive consultations. Preregistration required. Garfield Park Village, 721 Bay St., Santa Cruz

6:30–8 p.m., Thursday—Planning ahead for peace of mind. 1st United Methodist Church, 229 Stanford St., Watsonville.

10 a.m. to noon, April 23—Advance directive consultations. Preregistration required. Hospice of Santa Cruz County Annex, 5403 Scotts Valley Drive, Scotts Valley.

5:30–7:30 p.m., April 26—Advance directive consultations. Preregistration required. Mountain Community Resource Center, 6134 Highway 9, Felton.

6:30–8 p.m., April 28—Advance directive consultations. Preregistration required. First United Methodist Church, 229 Stanford St., Watsonville (English and Spanish).

This article was published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

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