Lately the word has really gotten around. It’s important to fill out your health care proxy form.

In New York, no one — not even a spouse — is legally able to make health care decisions for you if you can’t speak for yourself. The health care proxy form lets you put someone in charge of those decisions so you can make sure your wishes are carried out.

But filling out the form is just the beginning. What if your family can’t find it? It’s estimated that, in one of every three cases when a family needs a completed health care proxy form, the form isn’t available.

To eliminate the confusion of searching through stacks of papers, wouldn’t it be great if you could store and access your health care proxy online?

That’s the whole point of a new program called Assuring Your Wishes. You can use this free service to put your advance directives at a secure, confidential place on the Internet. Only you or your care providers can access the documents using your personal password.

The Council on Aging of Niagara County is offering this program locally, as part of a collaboration between the Community Health Foundation of Western and Central New York, and the New York State Hospice and Palliative Care Association.

Here’s how it works:

• Contact the Council on Aging at 285-8224 or coa@hanci.com to request a kit.

• You’ll receive information on the four simple steps for completing a New York state health care proxy form. You won’t need an attorney.

• Once you have filled out your health care proxy form, mail it back to the Council on Aging, along with a form authorizing the COA to put your form securely online. The COA staff will save a copy in a confidential Internet database.

• A few days later, the COA will return your proxy form so you’ll have it in case you need it. You’ll also receive four wallet cards telling you how to access your information online. You may share these cards with your family and physician. You’ll also want to carry one with you so doctors will know how to find your advance directives if needed.

It’s that simple, and it’s free.

This process gives you a chance to talk with your family about the kind of care you want to receive. Once you choose a person to carry out your wishes, there will be no doubt about who will speak for you if you can’t speak for yourself. 

Guest speakers are available to explain the health care proxy to groups and organizations. Feel free to call the Council on Aging at 285-8224 to arrange a presentation.

All of us deserve respect and quality care, not tough choices. By filling out your health care proxy form and putting it online, you’ll take a big step toward peace of mind for you and your family.

Jeff Paterson is the director of communication and advancement for the Health Association of Niagara County Inc. For more information on HANCI, visit www.hanci.com.

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