National Healthcare Decisions Day Teams Up with The Conversation Project

Posted on 06/16/2016


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National Healthcare Decisions Day teams up with The Conversation Project

Advance care planning advocates join forces to make a greater impact as the national holiday celebrates its 10th anniversary

RICHMOND, VA and CAMBRIDGE, Mass.| Two organizations are unifying in an effort to change the way Americans approach advance care planning.  In a survey conducted by The Conversation Project in 2012, 90 percent of respondents said they believe it is important to discuss their end-of-life care wishes. Yet, that same survey also found that only 30 percent of those individuals are actually having the conversations. Similarly, 70 percent of people say they want to die at home, but in reality, 70 percent die in hospitals or institutions.

Working to close this gap are two like-minded advance care planning advocates: The Conversation Project, which works to ensure that everyone’s end-of-life care wishes are both expressed and respected, and organizers of the widely recognized, National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) held every April 16, which encourages education and awareness on advance care planning through grassroots community events. The two organizations are joining forces to lead NHDD’s 10th anniversary events in 2017.

Effective June 16, 2016, The Conversation Project will be responsible for the management, finances, and structure of NHDD.  NHDD’s founder, Nathan Kottkamp, will continue to be involved in NHDD and provide leadership by helping to guide the transition process, and ensuring the maintenance of NHDD’s high quality resources and support for the community.

With the full power of The Conversation Project behind it, NHDD aims to expand its reach and boost the number of providers, hospitals, organizations, communities, and institutions that are currently involved. To date, over 110 national and 1,600 state/local organizations have pledged their support and/or contributed to NHDD activities. Approximately 3 million members of the general public have participated in NHDD events or received advance directive information as a result of NHDD activities. “The Conversation Project is the natural choice to take on National Healthcare Decisions Day because it’s closely aligned with NHDD’s mission and my own passion for this work,” says NHDD founder Nathan Kottkamp, also a partner of Health Law at McGuireWoods.

“National Healthcare Decisions Day is widely respected and followed across the country. Nathan has done an incredible job keeping up with the traffic, demand, and excitement that this day invokes,” says Ellen Goodman, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and founder of The Conversation Project. “We are honored that the NHDD leadership has chosen The Conversation Project to lead this movement forward and are excited to work alongside Nathan and his team to bring this national holiday into our family of resources.”

Goodman founded The Conversation Project in 2012 after having been her mother’s caregiver and health care decision-maker for many years. Had Goodman had conversations with her mother before dementia impaired her ability to share her desires, she might have felt more comforted about the choices she faced. The goal of The Conversation Project is to help loved ones die in the way they would choose, honoring their wishes in death the same way we do in life – with dignity, respect, and deep compassion. Studies show that when there is a meaningful conversation about end-of-life choices, survivors report feeling less guilt, less depression, and an easier process of grieving.

“In my line of work I hear heartbreaking stories each day where a family member is now being called upon to make a series of difficult decisions for someone else without guidance or anything in writing,” says Kottkamp. “These conversations are crucial for everyone and especially those who have been diagnosed with a serious illness or anyone with a large family where there is an inherent possibility of disagreement. To borrow a frequent line from The Conversation Project: It’s always too soon, until it’s too late.”

As a health care lawyer with a master’s degree in bioethics, Kottkamp has always been passionate about healthcare ethics issues while working diligently to demystify advance care planning. As a young adult, he completed his own advance directive at the age of 20. He was just five years into his legal practice when Terri Schiavo’s end-of-life care captured the attention of the American public. A legal struggle over private end-of-life care decisions ensued with family tensions being played out in the public arena, due largely to Ms. Schiavo’s lack of documented advance care planning.   Her story ignited nationwide discussion and debate, and the first Virginia Advance Directives Day was born under Kottkamp’s leadership in 2006. After two years, the effort was expanded to become “National Healthcare Decisions Day.” NHDD is observed by Americans from all walks of life each year on April 16, the day after tax day, inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s quip, “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Kottkamp also noted the invaluable support that the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) has provided since the inception of NHDD, “NHPCO has been an incredible supporter of NHDD, lending its resources to establish and then maintain the website, provide substantive resources, hold a dedicated fund for NHDD donations, and countless other activities.  I look forward to NHPCO’s continued involvement in NHDD, and I will remain grateful for NHPCO’s assistance in making NHDD what it is today.”

For more information about The Conversation Project or National Healthcare Decisions Day, visit TheConversationProject.org and NHDD.org or follow @convoproject and @NHDD.