UPMC teleconference invites public to prep for critical end-of-life care

UPMC is inviting the public to take part Tuesday in a teleconference call with physicians and clergy for discussion of an often difficult, frequently delayed topic: advance planning related to end-of-life care decisions.

The noon teleconference is among events being held across the country by health care providers this week that are related to the annual National Health Care Decisions Day. The local and national campaigns encourage individuals and families to give thoughtful consideration and dinner table discussion — before any crisis arises — to what medical care they would want if incapacitated, and whom they would want making decisions for them.

In lining up speakers for the Day of Conversation teleconference, UPMC officials have acknowledged that spiritual advisers, in addition to medical professionals, may play an important role in advising patients about late-life decision making. Several local clergy will join members of UPMC’s palliative care staff in leading discussion of critical issues, while also answering questions from the public on the phone line.

Andrew Thurston, UPMC Mercy medical director of palliative care, said the health care and faith communities need to recognize how one another has a part in preparing individuals for difficult health transitions. UPMC Mercy’s origins as a Catholic-based institution have meant a ready willingness there to encourage help from clergy in patients’ late-life decisions, Dr. Thurston said, but that’s not necessarily the case elsewhere.

“There’s honestly a certain amount of discomfort from medical trainees, residents and others, going on up the ladder, when it comes to issues of faith and spirituality that pertain to critical illness and end-of-life situations — whether that’s from their own personal beliefs or a lack of training,” Dr. Thurston said. 

At the same time when health care professionals need to be willing to recognize there are more than just medical considerations for patients, he said, those in the religious community should educate themselves about the proper steps to help make sure their congregants avoid confusion and conflict among their loved ones late in life.

UPMC offers guidance on important documents and decisions related to end-of-life care planning on its website, and welcomes participation by anyone in the Tuesday teleconference. Those interested should call 1-877-228-2184 at noon and use the following pin number when prompted: 111835.

Gary Rotstein: grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.


Expert Q&A