New Program Eases Way for End-Of-Life Conversations

Conversation ready storyConversations on how to spend the last days of life are likely the last conversations you want to have. But a new initiative soon to be launched in Central Florida by the National Gerontological Nursing Association (NGNA) is aimed at making it easier to have these talks and to make sure end-of-life care wishes are known.

Be@Ease Central Florida is a public awareness effort that encourages older adults to use a three-step advance care planning process. It will include tools to help individuals and families talk about their end-of-life wishes, commit them to writing, and share them with others.

Supported by an $85,000 one-year grant from the Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF), the program recognizes while most people think it is important to talk about end-of-life wishes—90 percent, according to a national survey by The Conversation Project—fewer than 30 percent have done so.

The Central Florida effort will target the communities of Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville and surrounding areas and focus on adults and families, with particular attention paid to older adults who are not in the midst of a health care crisis.

To get people to take the first step and talk about end-of-life wishes, community volunteers will be trained to effectively present the concepts and benefits of advance care planning to interested groups.

In addition, volunteer coaches will be trained to help facilitate these sensitive conversations with individuals and families who may need assistance. The Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) will train champions and coaches as part of a kick-off event planned for February 2015.  IHI will promote use of The Conversation Project’s starter kit which is currently being used in 130 communities throughout the U.S.

A second step in the process is to get people to record their plans. The Five Wishes tool–a living will that addresses personal, emotional and spiritual needs as well as medical wishes will be used for this purpose. It was written with the help of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging and meets the legal requirements in 42 states, including Florida.

The final step is making sure wishes are shared with family, physicians and any other members of the health care team.  Specific guides will be used to convey this information, in addition to the use of electronic apps that will allow portability of documents.

Program leaders hope Be@Ease will reach up to 1,800 people over the next year and that 600 will document and share their end-of-life wishes.  The grant began on Dec. 1, 2014.