By Ann Daley
I first heard about the POLST (Provider Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) concept when I served on the Ethics Committee at North Country Hospital in Bemidji, Minnesota. I thought, “What a great idea. It’s about time someone came up with a plan for helping people deal with ‘end of life issues’.”
As a registered nurse, I had worked in the Patient Education Department at the hospital teaching patients how to participate in their own health care. A program that would allow terminally ill patients to have a voice in their own health care decisions sounded good to me.
It often takes a lot of time and footwork to get new programs off the ground and that was clearly going to be the case with introducing POLST at North Country. Patients, physicians and health care facilities would need plenty of education to understand how POLST would work. As I thought about all that time and effort, and me being over the age of 80, I realized that that this POLST business would never happen in my lifetime. So, since the committee was moving so slowly, I resigned. I prepared my own POLST document, brought it to my doctor to sign, and forgot about it, knowing my plan was in place.
I never gave it another thought until a few months ago when two of my friends were diagnosed with terminal cancer. When they asked me to help them with their health care directives, I felt I had to tell them about POLST. But what if nothing was happening in the development of the program?
For the answer, I called Pastor Mark Papke Larson, the expert on “end of life” matters. I was glad to hear that POLST was alive and well and making progress and, yes, Mark would be happy to meet with my friends to help them understand how POLST works.
They were sold on the POLST idea and Mark helped them complete their documents. Long story short although Vicky and Muriel knew they would not be getting well, they felt good about the fact that they now had choices and would be in charge of their own health care issues. You might say that from now on these ladies would be “calling the shots.”
In collaboration with the Land of the Dancing Sky Area Agency on Aging and with funding from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, through its Aging and Adult Services Division, POLST is active and growing in Beltrami and Northern Hubbard counties. For more information about the POLST in Minnesota visit the Minnesota Medical Association’s website.