Recently, in the Trust and Estate Magazine, Myra Gilfix wrote a featured article titled “Advising Clients About Hospitalization and Operations.” In this article, Gilfix discusses how families can be advocates for themselves and for senior family members. In the article Gilfix stresses that a patient advocate is a crucial part of elder care.
Elder law attorneys help clients make decisions about end-of-life care through living wills or advance healthcare directives. Elder law lawyers can help their clients express their wishes regarding artificial life-prolonging care, artificially administered food and water, and comfort care if they can no longer make their own decisions in an event of an illness. Gilfix strongly encourages family members to talk to friends, other family members and medical providers about their wishes and feelings regarding end-of-life care.
Patient advocates or proxies, are those named in documents describing the medical care decisions or advance directives. The proxy can even be effective if the client is not debilitated or absent. Noted geriatrician, Dr. Mark Lachs, says, “. . . I firmly believe that there is no health-care venue where laypeople — patients, families, concerned friends and neighbors — can have a greater impact on improving outcomes of care.”
Elder care lawyers are positioned to offer information and help when a loved family member may be hospitalized. While not offering legal advice, an elder care attorney is able to encourage a client to name who they feel is the foremost person(s) to help them while they are in hospital. “Sometimes,” says Gilfix, “it takes a village.” Family, friends, a church group or even a professional advocate are the best support system and resource for seniors facing hospitalization. Patient advocates are in the unique position to help with communications with doctors and nurses, keep track of numerous medical staff, make sure a patient is comfortable and is recovering.
Elder law lawyers can easily add patient advocate to their existing role of assisting seniors, making attorneys more proactive in offering practical, fact-based advice and information for all family members.