National Healthcare Decisions Day, April 16
Social workers discuss importance of advance care plan
By Paul R. Pace, News staff
Deborah Waldrop understands the importance of discussing
health care decisions before a crisis occurs, and she encourages social workers
to take advantage of National Healthcare Decisions Day on April 16 by helping
their clients with advance care planning.
“By providing information and promoting conversations, NHDD
has the potential to facilitate powerful changes on how and where people die,”
said Waldrop, professor and associate dean for faculty development at the
University at Buffalo School of Social Work. “I spent many years working as a
hospital social worker and experienced too many situations in which people had
not told their families what they would want at the end of life. These
situations all too often ended with families making decisions based only on
what they ‘thought’ the person really would have wanted and leaving them with
doubt about whether they were doing what their loved one wanted.”
Waldrop said such scenarios bring about uncertainty for family
and friends, which can lead to feelings of guilt and self-doubt.
“Having conversations about end-of-life wishes well in advance
of the death can ease the dying process for people and their families,” she
NASW is once again sponsoring NHDD, a campaign — now in its
sixth year — that encourages adults with decision-making capacity to engage in
advance care planning.
Visitors to NHHD.org can learn more about the education
campaign and ways to get involved as well as download advance care directive
documents and other resources.
Waldrop said she advocates for adults to have a health care
“Health care proxies are about choice and assuring that if you
cannot speak for yourself, there is someone who knows what you would want and
can advocate on your behalf,” she said. “Second, I would suggest that advance
care planning is a specific process that fits more broadly within conversations
about ‘goals of care.’
“Goals of care can be viewed as a more whole life perspective
— that begins with asking the question, ‘What is important to you?’” Waldrop
said. “The answer may not be immediately related to end-of-life care but,
rather, related to being able to remain at home or to be present for a specific
Waldrop suggests anchoring discussions of specific documents —
such as advance directives, medical or physicians’ orders for life sustaining
treatment and do not resuscitate orders — within the context of what the person
Kathy Black is another social work educator involved in aging
issues. She is associate professor of Social Work at the University of South
Florida Sarasota-Manatee and focuses her research on advance directive
communication in gerontological practice.
She said research shows that social workers have important
roles in advance care planning. For example, a social work education provides:
A strong value base that instills the primacy of client
self-determination; substantial knowledge in human needs throughout the life
course; and practice skills in which to assess and intervene in facilitating
ACP needs with clients, their families and the broader network of care
“Increasingly, social workers are developing advanced practice
skills in these areas through such undertakings as the NASW Certificates in
Aging and in Palliative and End-of-life Care,” Black said.
She added that social workers have been instrumental in
helping older adults understand advance directives.
NASW is promoting the 6th annual NHDD through its SectionLink
and MemberLink as well as through its blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts and
through information sent to its 56 chapters.
NASW’s consumer website, HelpStartsHere.org, includes a section
on advance care planning: www.helpstartshere.org/seniors-aging/advance-care-planning
From April 2013 NASW News. © 2012 National
Association of Social Workers. All Rights Reserved. NASW News
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