Saving Lives Leadership Academy, Mount Pilgrim Church Co-Sponsor Program on Advance Directives, Wills, Hospice Care

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By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Graduate Fellow

Too often families leave no written instructions concerning the final wishes of their loved ones because they do not want to talk about chronic illness, dying or death.

Members of Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa recognized this problem and hosted “Let’s Talk” on Saturday, Aug. 11 to provide information to the congregation concerning advance directives, wills and hospice care.

The program combined a nutritious breakfast with health information and physical activity, all part of the church’s participation in The University of Alabama’s Saving Lives Leadership Academy, sponsored by the Division of Community Affairs and its Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP), which partners with churches to educate the community regarding critical health issues.

“I like this project because the topic of advance directives and planning is not always discussed within churches,” said Dr. Nicole B. Prewitt, CCBP director of programs and partnerships. “This team decided to start the conversation with families about planning, about hospice care, and about making decisions that can impact the entire family.”

Birmingham attorney Kelvin W. Howard discussed three legal documents everyone should have: a will, a power of attorney and a medical directive. He explained that when tragedy strikes and a person is on life-support, the family faces tough decisions.

“Nobody wants to make the decision to say I’m going to pull the plug on mama today,” Howard said. “I encourage my clients to take that pressure off your family and love your family enough to sit down and write down your wishes.”

He advised people to seek legal advice, but said putting things down on paper is a good start. However, he told them to choose the person they could trust the most when deciding who to give authority to make medical and financial decisions in their stead or absence.

“The next time you do this, invite a friend. They need to hear this. They need to know this,” Howard said, explaining that he is consulted regularly about advance directives and powers of attorney after the person is incapacitated and there is nothing legally he can do to help. “I’m grateful that you all are creating an environment to change a mindset.”

The program organizers explained that the talk doesn’t have to happen over one evening, but people need to be open and honest about their wishes concerning cremation or burial, as well as how they feel about resuscitation and depending on machines to live.

“Attorney Howard has given us some good instructions we need to act on,” said Mount Pilgrim Pastor Frank Kennedy Sr., who said he planned to ask Howard to return to discuss these topics with the entire congregation.

Another topic was hospice care. Years ago when people talked about hospice care, said Mount Pilgrim Saving Lives advocate Valerie Cleveland, who helped organize the event, “People thought someone was getting ready to die. But hospice services have changed. We need to let people know that these services are available.”

Hospice services have expanded to include helping those who suffer from illnesses like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Cleveland said, adding that the service should be viewed as additional support for the family as well as other members of their medical team.  Additionally, she said many people do not know that hospice provides medical supplies, which the family may be paying for out-of-pocket.

“You can have hospice services in a hospice facility, you can have services in your home, and you can have hospice services in the nursing home,” said Cleveland, a nursing home social worker. “It’s more eyes on that resident, and it is a big support for the family because hospice will be with that family for months after someone dies. They have chaplains; they have social workers; they have nurses.”

Saving Lives is under the direction of Dr. Nicole B. Prewitt, director of programs and partnerships for community engagement in the Center for Community-Based Partnerships, an initiative of the Division of Community Affairs. To learn more about the program, email or call 205-348-9819.