Initiative highlights advance care planning

Social workers play a critical role in end-of-life care, said Karen Bullock, an associate professor at the North Carolina State University Department of Social Work in Raleigh, N.C.

When National Healthcare Decisions Day arrives April 16, Bullock wants social workers to encourage individuals and families to have conversations with their loved ones about their health care wishes and to plan for unexpected events. Such discussions can be empowering for people, she said.

This marks the fifth year of the NHDD initiative, and NASW is once again joining the campaign that encourages adults with decision-making capacity to engage in advance care planning.

“(Social workers) should be at the forefront of such an initiative because it is so well aligned with what we do and who we are as professionals,” Bullock said. “The momentum around NHDD is exciting and necessary if we are to help people to receive optimal care that is consistent with their own values and expectations.”

The NHDD website features advance directive materials, links, media information and social media tools. New this year is a video on the website that is specifically designed to help people approach the topic of advance directives in a matter of a few minutes, said Nathan Kottkamp, chairman of the NHDD initiative.

“The video is something that people can watch together,” he said. “We have gotten a lot of positive feedback from it.”

Social workers need to emphasize that advance directives are not just for people diagnosed with serious health conditions or older adults.

“Anyone can experience a life-threatening illness or injury at any point in life and you would want to make sure you know who will be making decisions about your end-of-life care,” Bullock explained.

Drafting an advance directive is not complicated, she noted. “It is not expensive and doesn’t require an attorney.”

NHDD emphasizes that advance care planning goes beyond completion of advance directives, explained Chris Herman, senior practice associate at NASW.

“The observance is a good time for individuals to review their advance directives to make sure they still reflect the kind of care they want at the end of life, and to discuss those decisions with their health care agents and health care providers,” she said. “It’s also an opportunity for people who are acting as health care agents to initiate conversations with health care providers about specific medical decisions they may need to make on behalf of their loved ones in the future.”

NASW’s consumer website,, includes a section on advance care planning.

The association plans to promote NHDD with a press release and through its social media outlets and blogs.

“We want to underscore the value of this annual observance,” Herman said. “Social workers help people identify and express what matters most to them at the end of their lives. Then, in collaboration with the interdisciplinary team, social workers help people consider how various health care options fit with those values, so individuals and families can make informed decisions.”

In other palliative care news, NASW staffers are participating in an audio conference May 15 for the Center to Advance Palliative Care to discuss the NASW-National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization hospice and palliative care credentials.