According to the West Virginia Center on Budget Policy Partnership for Elder Living, Seniors (65+) make up 16 percent of West Virginia’s population. West Virginia has the second-largest percentage of seniors in the country, topped only by Florida. Numbers continue to grow as Boomers age, with the fastest-growing group in the state as those 85 and over.

An aging population needs to have conversations about end-of-life issues, not only to honor people’s wishes, but also to prevent creating unnecessary burdens on the healthcare system. These discussions should take place not only within families, but between patients and their doctors—before immediate needs arise.

One challenge has always been time. Healthcare providers have a limited amount of time to spend on each patient, and end-of-life discussions shouldn’t be rushed. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid is offering support so that doctors can be reimbursed for time spent in these conversations. The subject can be difficult, so resources for healthcare providers are available from the West Virginia Center for End-of-Life Care.

Julia Yuhasz, Provider Liaison for Hospice of the Panhandle, notes that while 94 percent of people say they want to pass at home, a large number pass away in hospitals. When people do not make their wishes known beforehand, vital decisions then must be made by others.

Yuhasz encourages everyone to pursue advance care planning. Legal documents for advance care planning include a living will, which tells doctors how you want to be treated if you’re unable to express your wishes, and a medical power of attorney, which lets you name someone to make medical decisions for you if you’re unable to make them yourself. Information and free forms are available here.

Additionally, Five Wishes is a popular living will and medical power of attorney form written in everyday language. It is available online from Aging With Dignity, a private non-profit organization.

For patients with significant illnesses or complications, a POST (physical orders for scope of treatment) is an extremely important document. It is reciprocal across state lines and may be known by other names in different states, and is available only from a doctor or hospital and must be signed by the patient and doctors. In West Virginia, it must be notarized.

Forms should be registered with the WV e-Directive Registry. This section of WV End-of-Life Care makes advance directive forms, do not resuscitate (DNR) cards, and POST forms available electronically to healthcare providers statewide. For example, if a person is brought into an emergency room unconscious, the medical team can honor the person’s wishes.

Locally, Hospice of the Panhandle (330 Hospice Lane, Kearneysville, WV) is a resource for information on end-of-life care and advance care planning. They suggest that everyone take a look at the resources and forms available online and start these important discussions now. Yuhasz offers workshops and seminars to health providers at any level, as well as the general public, including churches, community groups, and employers.

For more information, contact Julia McDonald Yuhasz at 304-264-0406, ext. 1233 or jyuhasz@hospice.org.

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