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Supporting the Community: Health Care Workers Assisting with End-of-Life Directives

MARTINSBURG — Collaborating on Tuesday, healthcare professionals from Berkeley Medical Center and Hospice of the Panhandle united to assist community members in understanding and preparing various advanced directives related to end-of-life care.

A recent study conducted by the University of Chicago revealed that merely 22% of adults in the United States have completed any advanced directive for their end-of-life care. The objective of Tuesday’s gathering was to elevate this percentage in the Eastern Panhandle region.

By 2 p.m. on Tuesday, over 35 individuals had participated in the program, completing essential paperwork for their medical power of attorney, living will, or both, free of charge.

Dixie Blevins-Bozenko, a social worker at Berkeley Medical Center, noted, “We have people of all ages engaging in this process. We’ve had individuals in their 20s or 30s approach us.”

Julie Sayre, the social services manager at Hospice of the Panhandle, emphasized the significance of completing advanced care directives regardless of age, as life’s uncertainties can affect anyone at any time.

Sayre remarked, “Many individuals may mistakenly believe that they need to reach a certain age or that they are too young to consider such matters, but that’s not accurate. The truth is, unforeseen events can occur at any age, so it’s prudent to designate someone to act on your behalf and in your best interests for medical decisions when you are unable to communicate your preferences.”

One of the key documents distributed during the event was the medical power of attorney, which empowers an individual to designate a representative to make healthcare choices on their behalf if they become incapacitated. This representative is expected to make decisions aligning with the individual’s values and wishes.

Sayre explained, “It’s a matter of selecting the most trustworthy individual to make decisions for you if the need arises.”

The medical power of attorney becomes effective only when the individual is incapable of making decisions independently and ceases to be valid once decision-making capacity is restored. Notably, the representative cannot contravene other documented or expressed wishes, such as those outlined in a living will.

Similar to the power of attorney, a living will is a legal directive that communicates a person’s treatment preferences in the event of terminal illness and incapacity to make decisions. It outlines the medical interventions desired to sustain or conclude a person’s life.

In the absence of proper documentation, healthcare providers would need to determine the appropriate decision-maker if an individual is unable to do so independently. Having the correct paperwork streamlines the process of identifying suitable care options for both patients and medical professionals.

Following the success of Tuesday’s initiative, organizers like Nina O’Connor, a medical social worker at Hospice of the Panhandle, expressed intentions to continue the event annually in alignment with National Healthcare Decisions Day.

O’Connor expressed, “I envision this event growing in participation year after year. It’s a valuable resource that comes at no cost. The documentation is essential, and participants can leave with it in hand.”