Healthcare is a much-discussed and lamented topic in the last three years.  As we move into the colder season and have to spend more time indoors even here in HB, doctor visits and hospital visits are on the rise.  Both a frequent and often uncomfortable topic, the subject of health care can even be controversial.  This environment makes any needed hospital experience far more complicated.

Even before the pandemic, being hospitalized without an advocate was not ideal.  It has always been beneficial to have someone you trust present with you, to help ask questions and to communicate wishes and needs.  In the face of the current restrictions on hospital visits, communication with doctors and staff becomes trickier.  The proper legal paperwork that gives clear instructions and authority to a trusted family member or friend regarding health care decisions becomes extra important.

The law in California allows any patient going into the hospital to designate a heath care agent.  This agent can speak for the patient when the patient can’t speak for themselves.  It allows the agent certain authority over health care decisions, which can include life-and-death decisions such as the withdrawal of life support or the withholding of food and water.  

But what happens if you are hospitalized, you don’t have legal documents prepared, and you are unable to choose someone at that time?  Your loved ones may not have access in the new environment of hyper caution.  This could mean there is no one looking out specifically for your best health care interests or advocating for you in a huge variety of medical situations.  Your specific and personal wishes in a variety of medical situations, including life support, are completely unknown to the medical team treating you.  Any religious or philosophical reasons for avoiding or accepting different health care options will not necessarily be acknowledged or honored in a crisis situation.

If your medical situation is not a life-threatening emergency but you are still incapable of responding for yourself, the health care providers will be legally required to wait until they get instructions from a court-appointed conservator.  That court process is expensive, and costs increase if the situation is urgent.  In addition, the person who has ‘priority’ to be appointed as your conservator according to the court may not be the person you would want to make your health care decisions for you.

The best solution of course is to pre-designate, in writing, your health care agent (and one or two alternates).  Our firm does this for our clients in the form of an Advance Health Care Directive.  You can indicate in this document some of your preferred choices for how you would like things handled in a medical emergency.  However, clearly choosing the right trusted person who will honor your wishes and make well-reasoned decisions as a medical situation evolves is the primary resource.  

Since it’s impossible to predict every twist and turn in a crisis, you must select an advocate who think about issues the same way you think, know you well, and are trustworthy to stand up for what you would want.  It’s not an easy job, by any measure.   Uncomplicate this complicated time as much as you can and choose an advocate now for your health.

For sickness or health this season, don’t wait – designate!  And do it in writing.