2011-07-15 / Columnists

Spotlight on Elderlaw

Who’s Your HCP?
Commentary By Nancy J. Brady, RN, Esq. And Linda Faith Marshak, Esq.

Perhaps the most important, yet most frequently overlooked planning document is the Health Care Proxy (HCP).

Since 1991, the passage of the Patient Self-Determination Act has enabled Americans to select a proxy, or individual to make medical decisions when the individual is unable to either temporarily or permanently make those decisions for himself/herself.

In New York State, the “Health Care Proxy” is the form in which one can designate an agent/proxy, and an alternative agent/proxy to make medical decisions (only if one is unable to speak for him- or herself). Your agent will advocate for your preferred treatment and ensure that your wishes are carried out at that point in time when you cannot speak for yourself. Hospitals, doctors and other health care providers must follow your agent’s decisions as if they were your own. You may give the person you select as your health care agent as little or as much authority as you want. You may allow your agent to make all health care decisions or only certain ones. You may also give your agent instructions that he or she has to follow.

Just ask any healthcare professional, or someone who has cared for a loved one and had to make health care decisions, just how important this document is. It is for people of all ages, not just the frail and elderly population. Studies have shown, however, that less than one third of Americans have a Health Care Proxy document in place! WITHOUT a completed Health Care Proxy form, YOUR wishes may not be known, or followed as you would have preferred.

Hospitals and health care facilities that receive federal funding (such as Medicare) are required to provide information regarding Advanced Care Directives and the Heath Care Proxy information to patients.

The New York State Senate considers this issue to be so important that a recent bill was passed in the Senate that will require the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to begin, no later than 2013, to send Health Care Proxy forms with driver’s license and registration renewal forms. While this is a step in the right direction, this approach will unfortunately take a period of years to reach our seniors in our area, and still they may not complete the forms at all or do so incorrectly.

In addition to the Health Care Proxy, you may choose to complete a Living Will. A Living Will is a statement of instructions regarding medical treatment desired, such as pain medication, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, mechanical ventilation, artificial nutrition or hydration. While this document is not necessary for your agent on a Health Care Proxy to make medical decisions, some individuals choose to have a Living Will in place to provide these specific guidelines for the Health Care Proxy agent to have in writing. These two documents are frequently referred to as “Advance Directives.”

We at Brady & Marshak, LLP have spoken with Senator Joseph Addabbo, and have decided to make a joint effort to promote and facilitate completion of Health Care Proxy documents for the seniors in our community. We will be “kicking off” this effort to jump start the movement of educating seniors of the importance of the Health Care Proxy and will provide the necessary information and forms to complete Health Care Proxy documents. This first event will be held on July 28 at 6 p.m. at Sugar Bun Bake Shop on Crossbay Boulevard in Howard Beach.

We plan to conduct a series of these meetings to meet our goal for every senior in our community to have this document in place.

We also invite the seniors in the area who are unable to attend the meeting to call our office to obtain and complete a Health Care Proxy and for our upcoming seminar schedule.

The attorneys can be reached at 718- 738-8500 for registration to the July 28 event and for further information.

We look forward to hearing from you!

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