Dying well

In this file photo, residents of a Twin Cities Nursing Home discussed difficult topics like writing wills, planning funerals and completing health care directives. Honoring Choices helps area residents to complete their health care directive — but amid the pandemic, it’s going online. (Peter Cox/MPR News)

With COVID-19 continuing to spread locally, Honoring Choices of Faribault and Owatonna has announced that it will offer its advance care planning course online this month.

The free program is normally offered monthly with classes alternating between District One Hospital in Faribault and Owatonna Hospital. It’s backed by the Allina Health Owatonna Hospital Foundation, Faribault Area Hospice Foundation and Federated Insurance.

At the workshop, guests learn about why it’s important to have an advance care directive and how to create one. Program Coordinator Pat Heydon has worked hard to promote the course and said that it’s gained in popularity over the last several years.

The online course will take place in two hour long parts, both of which will be held multiple times during July. The first will provide an introduction to advance care planning, while the second will focus on completing your advance care directive.

When the pandemic hit in March, Honoring Choices had no option but to abruptly stop its programming. Heydon said that new referrals to the program also plummeted, with people focusing on just the most essential care.

Even with the pandemic continuing, Heydon said that referrals to Honoring Choices have rebounded significantly. She said that only makes sense, as the pandemic has underscored the importance of being prepared for the worst.

“We have seen COVID-19 impact people differently and create serious health conditions for people who may otherwise be considered healthy,” Heydon said. “That just enhances the need for people to consider completing an advanced health care directive.”

An advance care directive ensures that a person’s health care wishes will be followed even if they’re unable to communicate. Through an advance care directive, a person can specify the goals of their care, appoint a health care decision-maker and refuse certain types of care.

Heydon said that if a person is able to get an advanced care plan in place, it ensures that their wishes are respected and dramatically reduces conflicts within families. Course facilitators provide a blank health care directive form for each individual to fill out according to their wishes.

Federated Insurance’s Julie Rethemeier said that Federated has gotten behind the program as a way to give back to the community. She said that the company values the course so much that about 75 employees have completed it themselves.

“From a risk management perspective, we decided (that supporting Honoring Choices) was the right thing to do for the community,” she said.

The class is designed to provide help for people who have thought a great deal about an advance care directive, and for those who know very little about how the process works. Trained staff are available to provide any assistance needed.

Heydon emphasized that everyone over the age of 18 is encouraged to consider filling out an advance health care directive. She said that it’s never too soon to prepare for the worst, noting that recent numbers have shown a large spike in COVID cases among people in their 20s.

Heydon said she understands that those who haven’t seen a health care directive form may have more questions than can be answered in a short class. She and her staff can set up follow-up appointments for those who have questions. Those sessions are also free.

Under normal conditions, those follow-up meetings could be held in person, along with other scheduled classes for families and group homes interested in learning more. For now, they will have to take place electronically.

Reach Reporter Andrew Deziel at 507-333-3129 or follow him on Twitter @FDNandrew. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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