Plan ahead for medical decisions, choices

Riverwood Healthcare Center, along with other national, state and community organizations, is leading a community effort to highlight the importance of advance health care decision-making—an effort that has culminated in the formal designation of April 16 as National Health Care Decisions Day.

The City of Aitkin will issue a proclamation to recognize April 16 as National Health Care Decisions Day to support advance care planning, which is for adults of all ages and life stages. It is a process of thinking and talking about your values, beliefs and goals for future health care in the event you could not make medical care decisions on your own.

This year’s theme for National Health Care Decisions Day is “It always seems too early, until it’s too late.”

“The first step in advance care planning is to start the conversation with your loved ones to discuss your wishes for medical care,” said Marlee Novak, Rural Physician Associate Program medical student at Riverwood from October 2017 through June 2018 who is focusing on advance care planning for her project. “There is no right or wrong way to do this. Your values will guide your preferences for end‐of‐life care.”

Complete a health care directive
It’s important to put your goals, values, and preferences in writing. A health care directive is a written plan you can make outlining your future medical decisions and choices.

This document is used to communicate your wishes if you are unable to do so, including the designation of a health care agent. Your agent may need to make decisions about your medical care, tests, surgery or end-of-life care; choose doctors or other health care team members or a care facility; review and release medical records; and stop treatment, if that is in your stated wishes.

Completing a health care directive helps to make sure your family and health care team can honor your choices.

Talk to your primary care provider
If you have questions about types of life-support treatments or health conditions under which you may decline them, talk to your health care provider to gain better understanding. For more in-depth discussion and support, Riverwood patients can be referred to a staff member who has been specially trained as a Respecting Choices First Steps Advance Care Planning Facilitator. At Riverwood, these facilitators include five registered nurse care coordinators—Joanna Brenny, Rhonda Hamann-Lease, Angela Joyner, Marcy Mateyka and Heidi Olesen; Jan Hegman, nurse practitioner/oncology care coordinator; and Val Thompson, social worker.

Learn more
Riverwood offers a monthly one-hour class on advance care planning at its hospital in Aitkin. The class is offered from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. on the third Wednesday of the month. For information and to register, call 218-927-5188 or email

Honoring Choices Minnesota is a good resource for information on how to talk to your loved ones about your end-of-life wishes and for health care directive forms and a step-by-step process on how to complete them. Go to

Riverwood Social Services, (218) 927-5524, is another resource for information and health care directive forms.