The Healthcare Proxy Helpline – Our Response Effort to COVID-19

The Completed Life Initiative and End of Life Choices New York have joined together to create the Healthcare Proxy Helpline, a collaboration intended to offer a new, free service to all New Yorkers concerned about COVID-19 and their potential risk for health complications if they become infected with coronavirus. Now is the time, while New Yorkers have been sheltering in place amidst a nationwide response to the coronavirus pandemic, to prepare for the unexpected by designating someone as their healthcare proxy.

On March 7th, 2020, New York Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order 202.14 , which permitted for the first time electronic video witnessing of New York State healthcare proxy forms being signed. This allowed anyone who may have developed significant concerns about end-of-life care to take action and designate a trusted friend or loved one as their healthcare proxy—and do so virtually, while safely socially distanced.

The healthcare proxy form is a legal document that outlines an individual’s wishes and preferences for medical treatment. In the event that an accident or illness unexpectedly renders someone incapable of communicating to their medical care team, the healthcare proxy form allows the designated proxy to act as healthcare agent on that person’s behalf. In order to be valid, the proxy form requires two witnesses to sign, in addition to the one who initiates the form.

Given concerns about social distancing due to coronavirus, designating someone as a healthcare proxy consequently became complicated. Suddenly, meeting up with two trusted friends as witnesses to pass a piece of paper and a pen back and forth no longer made sense. As Judith Schwarz, Clinical Director of End of Life Choices New York, notes: “We were hearing about problems that patients were experiencing, not being able to have witnesses present for the signing of health care proxies, given social distancing, at a time when more people are interested in completing  them. [The Executive Order] changes the options and will allow more New Yorkers to make important plans for their future.”

The Healthcare Proxy Helpline responds directly to New Yorkers’ concerns about COVID-19. The Completed Life Initiative enlisted 30 Advance Directive Advocates as bioethics practitioners to serve as electronic video witnesses for individuals completing their healthcare proxy forms. Our Advocates also volunteer their time to answer questions that arise about the purpose of the Proxy Form, and answer questions regarding “What should I consider when documenting my wishes?” and “How do I make sure that my physician and medical care team will honor my wishes via proxy?”

When you sign up for an appointment, you’ll have the chance to speak with one of our Advocates, who will guide you through the form, answer your questions, and who can serve as electronic witnesses when you sign the form. Once you schedule your appointment, you have the option to select a 30-minute counseling call, a 15-minute witnessing call a sign-only session, or a 45-minute call that includes both services.

In this time of COVID-19 running rampant in New York City, Long Island, and Upstate New York, making sure your loved ones know your exact wishes ahead of time is critical. When medical crisis arises and you can no longer speak or communicate for yourself, it is essential to designate someone you know and trust as your Health Care Proxy so that he or she can act as your Health Care Agent and communicate your wishes when the unexpected happens.