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National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) is a national initiative to encourage adults of all ages to plan ahead of a health crisis. Making decisions ahead of time and putting your wishes in writing brings peace of mind to families. It helps to avoid the difficult situations that are so common when a person becomes seriously ill and the family is left to guess what their loved one would have wanted. Another goal of this annual event is to encourage health care providers to discuss the topic with their patients.

Understanding the importance of advance care planning, the Maryland General Assembly passed a law declaring April 16 as National Healthcare Decisions Day. In Maryland, Healthcare Decisions Day is designed to raise public awareness of the need to plan ahead for healthcare decisions related to end of life care and medical decision making whenever patients are unable to speak for themselves and to encourage the specific use of Advance Directives to communicate these important healthcare decisions.

An Advance Directive allows a person to select a decision maker, helps assure that a person receives the kind of medical treatments he/she would want, and gives guidance to those making terribly hard decisions.

Advance Directives are free, readily available, and straightforward. They may be obtained from Atlantic General Hospital, Supportive Care Services Department, the AGH website, and various online sites. Some good online resources are:

Over the past three decades, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws to legalize the use of living wills, healthcare proxies, and/or the durable power of attorney. The U.S. federal government has validated state laws on advance directives through the 1991 Patient Self-Determination Act. And the U.S. Supreme Court has handed down an opinion acknowledging the congruence of the Constitution of the United States with state laws regarding the right to designate future medical treatment.

Advance care planning is not just about old age. At any age, a medical crisis could leave someone too ill to make his or her own healthcare decisions. Even if you are not sick now, making healthcare plans for the future is an important step toward making sure you get the medical care you would want, even when doctors and family members are making the decisions for you.

Nobody can predict the future. You may never face a medical situation where you are unable to speak for yourself and make your wishes known. But having an advance directive may give you and those close to you some peace of mind.

Research has shown that the benefits of advance directives include: improved quality near the end of life; fewer burdens on the patient’s family and health care providers; and a reduced need for sometimes controversial, life-sustaining treatment.

If you would like assistance in completing an Advance Directive call Supportive Care Services at AGH: 410-629-6892 or email

Gail Mansell, BCCC, BCPC, FAPA
Director Supportive Care Services
Atlantic General Hospital