In her role as marketing and community liaison at SunPorch of Dodge City, Debbie Allen knows the importance of advanced directives for healthcare.

Therefore, she wants to take advantage of Healthcare Decisions Day, April 16, which is a local and national effort to spread the word.

"Since I have started helping with admissions here at SunPorch, I am often reminded of the need for public knowledge about advanced directives for healthcare," Allen said. "So, in observance of this special day in April, SunPorch will offer free advanced-directive forms here at the long-term-care residence."

These forms are for Do Not Resuscitate orders; durable powers of attorney; and living wills.

In addition, a Kansas Legal Services representative will be available on April 16, at SunPorch, 501 W. Beeson.

"Questions often come into play when someone is already hospitalized, perhaps in a coma, or otherwise incapacitated physically or mentally," Allen said. "This is when the family asks ‘what should we do’? A living will helps answer those questions.

"It provides the opportunity to express yourself in writing when you can’t express yourself verbally, taking the burden off your family.

"A living will can be a gift to those faced with difficult decisions.

"If we don’t have these conversations, there can be devastating results.

"One sibling might want to do everything possible, while another doesn’t think prolonging the inevitable is the right thing to do.

"With advanced directives, family members know their loved one’s wishes, which takes the guilt and anxiety off the family."

Allen noted that her position at SunPorch has opened her eyes about medical issues that may require feeding tubes, intubation and other measures that are extraordinarily personal.

"After discussing these possibilities with our Director of Nursing Denice Cragg, I discovered most people don’t want to prolong their lives in these ways," Allen said. "But it is certainly an individual’s decision.

"This is why you designate someone you trust with your medical power of attorney. You can spell out what you want and what you don’t want."

Medical powers of attorney apply when patients are receiving or needing medical care but cannot speak for themselves.

"If decisions must be made, the person you choose to act on your behalf will be consulted," Allen said.

A living will is not the same as a DNR – Do Not Resuscitate order. For example, a DNR applies at the "end stage of a disease and you don’t want to be revived if you go into cardiac arrest," said Allen.

"Some thoughts to consider are: what quality of life will your loved one have after being resuscitated; and would it be the kind of life this person would want?"

A power of attorney is valid when it is signed.

However, Allen added, if it is sitting in a desk drawer and no one knows about it, it is of no use. It needs to be accessible.

"It is highly recommended that copies be delivered to the person you have chosen to act for you, your doctors’ offices and the medical facility you use," she said. "It is not expensive to have an attorney handle it and it is worth the peace of mind."

Another option is making an appointment with Kansas Legal Services at a senior center. Services are free to those 65 and older.

"We hope people note that a living will makes your wishes known via a written statement, but by itself does not appoint a person to act on your behalf and make those decisions," Allen said. "A healthcare POA does do this.

"Like a living will, a healthcare POA does not distribute your property after death."