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Ethics committees advocating on behalf of elderly patients

More individuals are sitting down and speaking with family members about their personal wishes for end-of-life care. However, there are still countless others that never memorialize their desires in a planning document, such as a living will, and family members and staff at long-term care facilities, like nursing homes, end up at an impasse when conflict arises.

Problems such as these are becoming more prevalent as baby boomers are hitting retirement age and are moving to long-term care facilities. In fact, according to sources, the state of New Jersey is one of the highest states in spending for end-of life care.

In order to curtail the high expense of unwanted life-saving means, the state has implemented an ethics committee to intervene in conflicts that arise in a patient's end-of-life decisions.

New Jersey's ethics committees are mediating between family members and nursing home staff to make ethical decisions involving residents who are no longer competent enough to convey their end-of-life wishes.

The members on a committee panel will join from various professions, including social work, clergy, nursing, and long-term care.

Under the supervision of the Ombudsman for the Institutionalized Elderly, these committees can help with decisions for the patients residing in long-term care facilities.

The ombudsman for this state office offers training sessions that will assist individuals in learning how to "critically think" about the wants and needs of the patient or family member. It also helps those involved make better decisions for elderly patients, including end-of-life decisions for those without a living will.

In fact, a new law in New Jersey empowers residents to take matters into their own hands before they are not capable of articulating their wishes, by providing a planning document that memorializes their intent for end-of-life matters. The document is called the "Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment" or POLST. A POLST provides details about the personal wishes of the individual's "final days" and instructs staff and family members what medical intervention, if any, should be taken.

The POLST is not intended as a stand-alone document but in fact a supplement to any existing advanced directive or living will that may exist. It is the goal of the New Jersey Hospital Association to have a uniform POLST form to be in place before the end of the year.

Source: NJSpotlight.com, "NJ ethics committees mediate crucial end-of-life decisions," Beth Fitzgerald, March 13, 2012

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