Omega House promotes advance care planning

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Part of the Five Wishes form is seen close up. The legal will includes preferences for medical care and treatment in case of incapacitation.

HOUGHTON — A growing number of people are using living wills to determine their wishes in case they are no longer capable of making their own decisions, not just medically, but emotionally and spiritually.

Omega House uses the Five Wishes program, a legal document that spells out what the person wants for their medical treatment and care in the event they are incapacitated. People 18 years or older can use it. The document covers the person they want in charge of their medical decisions, the kind of medical treatment they do or don’t want, how comfortable they want to be, how they want people to treat them and what they want their loved ones to know.

Five Wishes can be used in 42 states, including Michigan, and the District of Columbia.

Work began on the advance care planning program at Omega House three or four years ago with a grant from the Keweenaw Community Foundation, said Carol Pfefferkorn, marketing director for Omega House. The program is also in use at Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital, she said.

“It’s about making choices, it’s about making personal health care decisions in advance,” she said.

Some items offer multiple choice questions on preferred courses of action: for people in a coma, they can choose a simple yes/no on life-support treatment, or a more qualified approval that hinges on if it is improving the person’s health condition. Others offer a range of options, and prompt the person to cross off those with which they disagree. For the wish on how they want to be treated, people have choices such as “I wish to have others by my side praying for me when possible” and “I want to die in my home, if that can be done.”

“When you have an advance care plan, that ultimately goes into your medical record, you have talked to at least one, maybe even two or three person who you can choose as your health care advocates who agree with what you have said, who have signed off on this document, and they can make that decision for you,” Pfefferkorn said. “It takes a lot off the family, who in some instances don’t know what to do.”

Pfefferkorn has talked to groups including students at Michigan Technological University. Understandably, living wills hadn’t weighed heavily on their minds. However, she said, it’s not unprecedented: four children between 17 and 19 die in a car crash per day in America.

“That means four families are devastated and may not have a clue about what to do,” she said.

Mike Lutz, executive director of Omega House, said as a community leader in end-of-life care issues, Omega house wants to build new services related to end-of-life care.

“It’s a free service that Omega House will offer,” he said. “We know that many people aren’t prepared for the decisions that need to be made when someone close to them in dying. Advance care planning helps give you that head start on that decision process, and that end result is going to help alleviate the stress and burden that comes at that point in someone’s life.”