There has been a recent surge in COVID-19 cases locally and nationally, and public health experts expect this to worsen now that we have moved indoors for the winter. We are beginning to hear that in some states hospital and ICU resources are nearing capacity and there may not be enough for all those requiring care.

It’s an important time to consider your own possible future health care needs and preferences. Often people get very sick very quickly, and they may become unable to make decisions about their own treatment. Others will be asked to make decisions for them.  Who would make such decisions for you?  Would they know what is important to you?

This is a good time to complete a health care directive (also called an advance directive or living will). A health care directive is a written plan for loved ones and medical professionals to follow if you are unable to express your own health care decisions. If you already have one, it’s a good time to review it and be sure it still reflects your wishes.

Completing a health care directive includes identifying a health care agent, a person you choose to make your treatment decisions when you are unable to do so. Because we know that COVID 19 often causes severe breathing difficulty, some questions to consider are whether you would choose hospitalization, oxygen therapy, and mechanical ventilation along with ICU care if needed.

Though it is difficult to think about, it is better to work through this “advance care planning” process before a medical crisis occurs.  This allows time for you to consider what is important to you; your values, beliefs, and experiences.  You can consider what “quality of life” means for you, what brings joy to your days. You can select a person you trust to advocate for your choices and discuss your thinking with that person.  It also allows time to share your thoughts with the others who care about you; your health care agent will need their support when acting on your wishes.

Luke Preussler, director of Mission at CHI St. Joseph’s Health, provides a perspective from the hospital setting. He says, “One of the most significant gifts we can provide our loved ones is clear direction about what is important in our care — what we want the health care team to know about our treatment preferences. Advance care planning provides the space for individuals to communicate values in advance of a serious illness that might jeopardize a person’s ability to be their own decision-maker. This process gives loved ones peace of mind in the midst of a difficult and emotionally stressful time.”

To learn more about advance care planning in general and locate a health care directive form, see Honoring Choices MN at http://honoringchoices.org/.  Your primary care provider or primary doctor is one important resource. There are also specially trained volunteers who work with Honoring Choices of Park Rapids, Walker, and surrounding communities and can assist you at no cost.

To connect with local resources in Park Rapids call (218) 732-3137 (Living At Home) and in Walker call (218) 547-1897 (Calvary Evangelical Free Church).  These organizations are taking calls for Honoring Choices and will connect you with a local contact.

This article was submitted by Honoring Choices of Park Rapids, Walker and surrounding communities, an organization whose mission is to provide for quality advance care planning services (resulting in health care directives) in a variety of settings for people in our communities.

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