PO Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

For Release:
April 15, 2015

Mary E. O'Dowd, M.P.H.

For Further Information Contact:
Office of Communications
(609) 984-7160

Christie Administration Recognizes National Healthcare Decisions Day April 16

New Jersey Health Commissioner Mary E. O'Dowd will join the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute's Mayors Wellness Campaign to the launch the Conversation of a Lifetime project to develop and promote a community conversation around advance care planning.

This event is being held in concert with National Healthcare Decisions Day, April 16, which highlights the importance of documenting your healthcare preferences. The project will bring the conversation about advance planning for end-of-life healthcare decisions to several communities in our state with the goal of increasing the number of New Jersey residents who have legally expressed their wishes. The launch will be held at the Princeton Public Library at 10 am.

"The best way to ensure that your dignity and autonomy are honored should you become unable to make your own healthcare decisions is by sharing your wishes about end-of-life medical treatment with family members and your physician," said Commissioner O'Dowd. "It's never too early for any of us - young or old, healthy or not - to plan and prepare for our future healthcare decisions."

The New Jersey Department of Health is encouraging residents to discuss their healthcare preferences and plan ahead for end-of-life care decisions with their physicians, advanced practices nurses, caregivers and family.

The Department recently launched its palliative and end-of-life care website, which features toolkits, including links to The Conversation Project's starter conversation kit, to help guide residents in talking about end-of-life care with their loved ones. The website also highlights the Practitioner Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form, which empowers residents to work with their healthcare provider to document preferences for medical care at the end of life. In 2011, Governor Chris Christie signed New Jersey's Practitioners Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) law, which allows patients with a life-limiting illness, in collaboration with their healthcare provider, to identify goals of care and preferences for treatment. The Department and the New Jersey Hospital Association continue to educate healthcare providers about the POLST form and encourage them to take an active role in advance care planning for their patients so they are able to effectively honor their patients' wishes at the end-of-life.

"New Jersey's POLST form is designed to be completed jointly by an individual and a physician or advance practice nurse. It truly is a partnership between the patient and the healthcare professional," said Elizabeth A. Ryan, Esq., NJHA President and CEO. "We're working with healthcare providers, through webinars and other training programs, to emphasize the importance of POLST and its great potential to improve the end-of-life care experience."

The Department and NJHA have developed and released the POLST form, Guidance for N.J. Healthcare Professionals and materials for patients and providers in several languages, all of which are available at http://www.njha.com/quality-patient-safety/advanced-care-planning/polst/.

While POLST is focused on residents who are facing a life-limiting illness, Advance Directives can be used by individuals in any stage of life. Advance Directives are an important tool to document preferences for care in a situation where an individual can no longer communicate.

In New Jersey, there are two kinds of advance planning documents that allow individuals to document end-of- life care preferences. A "proxy directive" and an "instruction directive" are both legal documents that residents can complete on their own. They only go into effect if a physician has evaluated the patient and determined that the patient is unable to understand the diagnosis, treatment options or the possible benefits and harms of the treatment options.

A proxy directive, which is sometimes known as a durable power of attorney for healthcare, allows individuals to designate a "healthcare representative" to make healthcare decisions on their behalf should they become unable to make their own. An instruction directive, sometimes known as a living will, is a document that records an individual's values, beliefs and goals as they relate to preferences for certain medical treatments.

The National Institutes of Health has a web page dedicated to helping individuals prepare for the end of life, which includes types of care available and questions that individuals should consider when planning. This web site can be found at:

For more information on the Conversation of a Lifetime project visit:

Please visit www.nhdd.org for more information on National Healthcare Decisions Day.

Last Reviewed: 4/15/2015