By Elizabeth L. Wynn
Have You Prepared for the Unexpected?
Have you ever asked what it would be like to find yourself in the position of primary caregiver to a friend or family member, whether in an emergency or otherwise? More than likely you will feel overwhelmed, if not completely lost. What do you do first?
Many times these situations begin with an emergency. Who would you call other than 911? Do you know the names and phone numbers of the doctors or hospitals that have provided treatment in the past and who will likely have the necessary medical records? Do you know what your loved one’s wishes are concerning medical treatment?
In an emergency situation, there will be a multitude of questions. There’s the medical history, medications, surgeries, allergies, current diagnosis, and primary physician, to name a few. Do you have access to this important information? Have you asked about these issues when you had the opportunity? Or, more importantly, do you have this information in writing? Oftentimes, it’s difficult to depend on memory alone.
Whether your loved one is in a facility or homebound, your presence will be required for comfort, decision making, and just to be informed of any changes in their health status. There will be the inevitable doctor’s appointments, prescriptions to fill, and alternate caregivers to be scheduled. Having as much as possible in writing will be a great aid in handling those hectic time demands.
You may now be responsible for financial matters, which must be attended to in a timely fashion. Again, you need to know the information regarding these various obligations as well as where the financial accounts are located and who has access to them.
In addition to these practical matters, there are certain legal documents that are critical for your loved one to have executed in order for you to adequately care for them while they are incapacitated. At a minimum, you need a Durable Financial Power of Attorney and an Advance Health-Care Directive (AHCD) with HIPAA provisions.
The Durable Financial Power of Attorney is a document whereby you are granted authority to act on their behalf concerning personal financial affairs. This document gives you, as agent, a wide range of duties and responsibility, and should be customized to meet as many of their needs and potential needs as possible.
The Mississippi AHCD includes enhanced living will provisions and a statutory health care power of attorney. It allows a person to appoint someone to make healthcare decisions for them, but only according to their predetermined wishes. It includes chosen directions about health care, pain relief preferences, and wishes regarding end of life treatment, including cardiac resuscitation, mechanical respiration, and artificial nutrition and hydration.
However, the ACHD is not complete without separate HIPAA authorizations. HIPAA is the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. Unless a healthcare provider has a specific consent form, they are legally unable to discuss medical details with the people who care about them and need the information the most.
If you spend just a little time now and put as much as you can in writing, it will pay dividends on your peace of mind as the caregiver, and for the well-being of the one being cared for.
Elizabeth Wynn is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and practices law in Ridgeland. She and her family live in Madison.