SUMMIT, NJ - SAGE Eldercare is bringing an important conversation directly to the community through a new initiative, supported by Atlantic Health System hospitals, that will offer workshops in familiar spots both in Summit as well as Pompton Plains.

The new outreach program -- 'Your Decisions Matter' -- is designed to engage the public in conversations about end-of-life care and decision making, hosted in familiar places throughout the community.

Developed in partnership with Atlantic Health System’s Overlook and Chilton Medical Centers, the initiative will feature workshops in places that are safe and informal such as at a coffee house, YMCAs, the local library or houses of worship. Other community events might include a movie screening, game night or panel discussion.

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Additionally, 'Your Decisions Matter' will provide resources on relevant topics such as advanced directives, palliative care and hospice care, as well as follow up with all participants with additional help and resources.

The initiative is supported by a three-year grant from the Community Advisory Boards at Overlook and Chilton.

“Overlook Medical Center has long championed the importance of thoughtful and personalized end-of-life care,” said Alan Lieber, president of Overlook Medical Center.  “We are proud to partner with SAGE to continue to spark the very necessary conversations that people will need to make compassionate and informed decisions for themselves and their loved ones.”

The goal of the program is to encourage individuals to talk with their loved ones about what matters to them most in their final days. Facilitating and normalizing this difficult topic for families will lead to peace of mind knowing that wishes will be followed, particularly at times when a patient is not able to advocate for themselves.

“Working with patients at every stage of life, we’ve found many families still struggle with how to talk about a loved one’s wishes if they become seriously ill,” said Stephanie Schwartz, president of Chilton Medical Center. “Partnering with community organizations such as SAGE Eldercare allows us to guide families through these difficult times and provide them with the right tools and support to make more informed decisions.”

A recent survey found that 87% of people believe it is important to put their own end-of-life preferences in writing, but only 23% have actually done so. Additionally, 90% of people plan to talk to their loved ones about end-of-life care, but only 27% have had this conversation. Some reasons given by those surveyed include: feeling uncomfortable with the subject matter, too busy, it is “not the right time because no one is sick”, not wanting to upset or scare a family member, and finally, not wanting to think about death.

“The purpose of the program is to help remove the taboo that often exists when talking about end-of-life care by bringing the conversation to the community,” said Angela Sullivan, Executive Director at SAGE Eldercare. “The 'Your Decisions Matter' initiative is aware of various cultures and beliefs and recognizes that all wishes are not alike, but all are respected.  The workshops will be a safe place for making those wishes known.”

The intent of the program is not only to give guidance and support but to do so in a safe and informal atmosphere such as at a coffee house, movie screening, house of worship, panel discussion or other community event. Additionally, Your Decisions Matter will provide information at these events on relevant topics such as advanced directives, palliative care and hospice care, as well as follow up with all participants with additional help and resources.

“When someone attends a Your Decisions Matter workshop, they will receive a starter kit with valuable tools to help them begin talking to family members about end-of-life decision making,” said Project Coordinator, Nina Tiger. “They will also share experiences and connect with other people in their community, learn about advance care planning and, most importantly, gain a valuable resource that they can turn to again and again.”

For more information, Nina Tiger at 908-598-5511, contact yourdecisionsmatter@sageeldercare.org, or visit sageeldercare.org/services/yourdecisionsmatter.