Learn how to plan ahead about serious illness, death at public workshop

Jo Anne Grace, Ph.D., right, spiritual care and bereavement coordinator with Northwest Colorado Health, will be one of the speakers during the May 10 seminar on hospice and palliative care. Grace supports hospice patients as they prepare for end of life, and grief counseling is available to hospice families for one year after a loved one’s death.
Northwest Colorado Health/Courtesy photo

Yampa Valley residents certainly are not spared from sudden illnesses, serious accidents and unexpected deaths, so planning ahead for future illness, incapacity and death is important for residents both for themselves or to assist family members.

“You just never know. If you want your wishes to be followed, this is what you need to do,” said Mary Jensen, a registered nurse, attorney and volunteer member of the UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center Ethics Committee. “It’s not something that people think about until they need it.” 

The committee wants residents and families to be prepared in case of serious health or end-of-life situations, so the committee is hosting a free, five-part “Planning for Life Transitions” lunchtime speaker series with local legal and health care experts. The public workshops are set for noon Wednesdays from April 19 to May 17 at Bud Werner Memorial Library.

Ethics Committee Co-Chair and Yampa Valley Medical Center Director of Pharmacy Wes Hunter said one of the most common situations where the ethics advisory committee is called in to assist medical staff is when an injured or dying person has expressed wishes to a close friend or partner that disagrees with the wishes of a legally authorized guardian. For example, a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend may say the patient would want one course of care while the parents say the patient would want another path.

That is why a patient’s medical wishes should be uploaded on the UCHealth online patient portal and/or stored in a secure digital vault through services such as DocuBank, which provide immediate access to health care directives and emergency medical, Hunter said.

“I just can’t reiterate enough that planning in advance can save a lot of heartache later,” Hunter said. “As much planning up front as you can do is going to save you and your loved ones a lot of hassle if anything happens. People put it off too long; no one thinks it’s going to happen to them.”

Jensen recommends a few key legal documents including a health care directive and medical power of attorney to protect patients and their wishes. In addition to the well-known do-not-resuscitate order, patients can also complete a do-not-intubate order, Hunter said.

Adrienne Idsal, black shirt middle left, director at The Haven Assisted Living in Hayden, leads the support group Purposeful Aging about maintaining purpose through life transitions.
The Haven Assisted Living/Courtesy photo

The Ethics Committee hosted a similar series in fall 2018 that was well received because many people do not understand or complete life transition planning, Jensen said. Complications during the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need to host the series again. Hunter said ethics committees at hospitals across the UCHealth system dealt with more patient ethics cases during the pandemic.

“COVID brought to light a lot of weaknesses that people have in their planning and inability to get it done quickly,” Hunter said. “What we see at the hospital, if these things aren’t filled out, then it leaves a void. We have to fall back on laws and regulations, and that might not be congruent with the patients’ wishes. It can save a tragic situation if people have their ducks in a row before anything happens rather than having the system framework for decision-making forced on you.”

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The increase in intubations with sedation for very sick COVID-19 patients in addition to no-visitor policies made caring for patients without advance directives in their electronic medical records more difficult and complicated for medical personnel, Jensen said.

The education series will kick off April 19 with the topic “Long-term Care and Medicaid” presented by Mark Fischer, an attorney in Steamboat Springs. Fischer will explain Medicaid eligibility policies related to long-term or nursing home care and family assets.

Planning for Life Transitions seminar schedule

April 19 – Long-term care and Medicaid
April 26 – Patient advocacy and Colorado End-of-Life Options Act
May 3 – Legal documents everyone should have
May 10 – Hospice and palliative care
May 17 – Funerals and funeral planning

According to the American Council on Aging, when a senior applies for long-term care for services in a home, assisted living residence or nursing home, Medicaid uses an asset or resource limit to determine Medicaid payment eligibility.

“If you or your spouse need Medicaid, learn how to protect your assets by use of Medicaid planning to transfer assets, which should take place five years before someone has to go into a nursing home,” Fischer explained.

The topic for April 26 is “Patient Advocacy and Colorado End-of-Life Options Act” presented by Deborah Batson, an independent board-certified patient advocate with Patient Advocacy Partners in Steamboat. Batson will discuss the usefulness of a patient having a medical advocate, whether that is from a family member, utilizing advocates in hospitals or hiring an independent advocate. The workshop will cover how end-of-life options function in Colorado and what resources are available, as Colorado is one of 10 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia that have adopted medical aid-in-dying legislation.

Residents can bring their own bag lunch to listen to the in-person sessions at Library Hall. For questions, email Jensen at

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