We hear the stories all the time about loved ones being excluded from hospital or hospice rooms because the family does not want him or her there. These days many people choose to live together rather than getting married. This only poses a problem when their companion is dying or hospitalized and the rest of the family decides the companion should be excluded. If there is nothing to state otherwise, the family can do this causing much pain to the companion and ignoring the desires of the loved one. It is a heartbreaking situation that could be remedied through advanced medical directive planning.
In 2010 a federal rule was instituted giving patients the right to designate who they did and did not want to see while hospitalized. The rule was to promote an equality of sorts by not giving exclusive visiting rights to family only. However, when a patient is not conscious or is unable to voice what visitors they want, it then falls on the person the patient has designated as their agent to speak for them in those circumstances. The agent then decides who will and will not be seeing the patient. If there is no designated agent then the family decides. Sadly, this is how family can sometimes exclude companions.
What is an advanced medical directive? A living will, a medical power of attorney, or a declaration of life. Generally living wills and medical powers of attorney tell doctors, hospitals, family and the world what you want to be done in the event you cannot voice your opinion on your medical care whether because of mental incapacity or medical situation (e.g., coma, persistent vegetative state, etc.). Many different things go into these documents regarding whether or not to use feeding tubes or electronic devices to sustain life or the appearance of life. There are requirements that dictate consultation with more than one doctor. Essentially everything is laid out for your agent and a doctor or doctors to follow as to your care.
A remedy would be to add to your medical power of attorney and living will that you want your companion to have equal access to you as if he or she were family. A simple paragraph added to both the living will and the medical power of attorney can prevent the exclusion of a companion from your side in the hospital, hospice or care facility. Also adding the companion to a HIPAA release for your medical information gives him or her access to your medical records and allows a doctor or hospital/facility to speak with him or her directly.
Part of what a living will and medical power of attorney are supposed to accomplish is making sure your wishes are followed at times when you cannot participate in your care. Establishing that either: your companion is your agent for health care or is someone you want kept in the loop and allowed access to you when you cannot voice it yourself is important. Directly expressing that lets doctors, facilities, hospitals and courts know what you are expecting and what you want when it comes down to it. It takes the guess work out of what you would want to have happen.
Everyone would like to believe such a situation would never happen to them. However, a medical crisis does not always bring out the best in everyone. It is better to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Talk to your estate lawyer about options and planning.
Written by June F. Bourrillion, Esq. for http://www.rkymtnlaw.com