By Marcia Mantell, RMA
Our year-long journey of the global COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a great number of cracks in many systems. We saw first-hand how fragile our health care system is. We now understand the real risks to off-shore manufacturing of PPE. And, of course, there has been the upending of our own family connections and traditions.
On the brighter side, we also were given a period of “unscheduled” time at home. Thankfully, that is about to come to an end. But, before you get back to whatever your normal is, put one more item on your stuck-at-home to-do list. Let’s take the learnings from this pandemic to better prepare when our own emergency arises.
It’s time to build your hospital Grab & Go Kit in a baggie!
Families and individuals faced some incredibly difficult situations during the COVID crisis. And the drama started right at the entrance to the hospital. It is an utter shock to be told, “You can’t come in. Patients only.”
Ellen Feinsand, a senior and elder advocate in Acton, Massachusetts, experienced her “you’re not welcome” early in the pandemic. The love of her life has serious heart issues. He ended up needing non-COVID emergency care last May. They raced to their local hospital where Jim was immediately ushered in for evaluation.
Ellen answered several questions about Jim’s situation at the front desk. Then she was told unceremoniously that she could not go any further. And, in fact, she had to leave the hospital entirely. Due to COVID protocol, she could not take one more step inside. Instead, she spent several hours awaiting any information in her car.
Reasons for building your grab & go kit
From Ellen’s perspective, the situation was of great concern. Yes, Jim was in distress. And there was no one there to help him clearly answer questions from the medical team. Perhaps he didn’t hear or understood the fast-paced information flying around. They’ve been through several years of dealing with his health issues—always as a team. But, now, having a partner in the hospital was not an option.
There are any number of health care situations each of us will deal with as we age. Sometimes we will have someone with us to answer questions and help navigate the challenges of getting the proper care we need. Many other times, we will be alone.
“Also keep in mind that during any kind of health crisis, you may not be going to your primary hospital,” Feinsand shares. “With COVID, you went wherever the ambulance took you. Where there was an open bed. In non-COVID situations, you might be transported to a hospital with a specialty unit. Or, you are out of town when the emergency arises. In all those cases, your electronic records are not available. How can the emergency doctor possibly get the information he or she needs to save your life?”
Finding a solution anyone can do
Between her advocacy work for seniors and her own real experiences with loved ones, Feinsand needed to find a solution. She knows first-hand how important it is to have the correct paper documents available for the hospital staff.
Most hospitals cannot look at a photo of a form on your phone or accept an email as proof of direction. That means the person who is not having the health crisis needs to deliver a physical piece of paper with the patient’s original signature. Otherwise, privacy laws do not allow for sharing of patient information.
With that knowledge and experience, Feinsand came up with a packaging idea that most everyone can do: Use a 1-gallon-sized baggie to house your most important health documents. Hang it on the back of your door so an EMT will see it and grab it on the way out.
The 10 critical items to build your own grab & go kit
You have most of the information already at your fingertips. Paper, pen, your medications, various contact information. A baggie. You might need to get a few forms in place, but do not delay assembling whatever you can. Some is better than none when it comes to giving you the best chance for a favorable outcome. Here’s what you’ll need:
No. 1: Pull together your basic personal information. On the top half of a piece of paper, list this information:
Your name, date of birth, address, and phone numbers.
Your emergency contact information—use mobile phone numbers whenever possible to allow for calls and texts.
Your primary care doctor and phone number, plus any specialists whose care you are also under.
Any allergies to food, medications, environment, or write “No Known Allergies.”
No. 2: Write out your specific medical information. On the bottom half of the page, provide these types of important information about you that a busy, stressed health care person would need to know to try to keep you alive:
Your current health and medical conditions, especially those that are not physically obvious, and chronic issues such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
Any implantable devices, replacement parts, etc., especially if not visible.
Your vision, hearing, and dental needs—glasses or contacts, dentures, or removable dental devices.
Your current baseline level of activity—such as you walk with a cane or walker, have arthritis in your knees, significant back issues, etc.
Your assessment of your cognitive abilities.
No. 3: Compile your complete drug list. On the other side of the page, list all prescription medications by official name and dosage details. Also list all non-prescription or OTC pills or capsules you take. Don’t forget to list your supplements and creams/lotions as well.
No. 4: Indicate any important medical history a health care provider should know about you. If you’ve had surgeries, are being treated for a chronic condition, or have other major medical information that a provider needs to know, list it below the above No. 3 information.
No. 5: Include a copy of your current health insurance card(s). If you are on Medicare, this would be your Medicare card, plus a Medigap card. Or, a Medicare Advantage card. If you have health insurance from an employer or union, copy that card. Make sure you include front and back. And, also include your Rx plan and dental insurance card if applicable.
No. 6: Include signed HIPAA Release form. Make sure you are using a HIPAA form for your state of residence. If you have a second home in another state, you may want to include one for that state as well. Fill out your state’s form online in a fillable PDF. Or copy the one from your current estate plan.
No. 7: Put in a signed Healthcare Proxy or Healthcare Representative form. Again, an original signature is required on this form. You use this form to appoint the person who will make healthcare decisions on your behalf when you can’t.
No. 8: Include your Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment. This form is state-specific and may also be called a Portable Medical Order. It is a bright color (pink, orange), easy for the medical team to find. It gives them your clear instructions for end-of-life wishes.
No. 9: Note your Power of Attorney or include a signed POA form. This legal document allows you to name someone to make financial decisions on your behalf. It may be the same person as your healthcare proxy or someone different.
No. 10: When you have completed your living will, include it in your baggie. Also known as an “advance directive,” this is a legal document you have prepared that specifically states the actions you want taken due to illness or incapacity.
No need to delay! Start building your grab & go hospital kit today
The COVID pandemic exposed how vulnerable we become when in the midst of a personal health crisis. The better prepared you can be, the better the odds that the highly stressed, over-worked, and over-wrought healthcare providers can help you in your moment of need.
“Thinking about experiencing a health crisis is no fun for anyone. But pulling together these basic documents and information is not hard to do,” Feinsand advises. “The emergency department staff has no idea who you are when you are rolled in on a stretcher. You’re going to have to help out in order to make it out.”
She recalls how difficult it was to find the documents she needed when Jim was rushed to the hospital. “Let me tell you, you are not thinking about documents and drug dosages when the love of your life falls to the ground. It’s all you can do to call 9-1-1.”
The time for building your grab & go hospital kit is not after calling the ambulance. So, before running out of the house on your first vacation in 18 months, do yourself a favor – order some gallon baggies for delivery and get down to business. You need this information for you. And for those who love you most. You’ll thank Ellen Feinsand for this tip later.
About the author: Marcia Mantell, RMA®, NSSA®
Marcia Mantell is the founder and president of Mantell Retirement Consulting, Inc., a retirement business consultancy. She develops innovative programs, marketing materials, and educational workshops in the financial services industry, for advisors and their clients. She is author of What’s the Deal with Retirement Planning for Women?, What’s the Deal with Social Security for Women? and blogs at BoomerRetirementBriefs.com.
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