Most people would agree that it’s a good idea to document their end-of-life wishes before the time comes to say goodbye. However, many people never get around to actually doing it.

Santa Barbara lags far behind the rest of the United States in completing this end-of-life document, formally known as an advance healthcare directive. Only 10 percent of people locally have completed the directive compared with 35 percent nationally.

The Alliance for Living and Dying Well (ALDW) is out to change all that with the free, simple, and convenient event called Get It Done Today! This community-wide event will be held on Wednesday, November 13, at several locations in Carpinteria, Santa Barbara and Goleta. Professional counselors, notaries, and trained volunteers (English- and Spanish- speaking) will be on hand to assist those who have never finished or even started their document.

For locations and hours of the various sites, visit

“With Get it Done Today! people can document their end-of-life wishes and check one more important task off their list,” says ALDW Executive Director, Susan Plummer. She favors the Five Wishes, an easy-to-understand form her organization has created to help people express how they want to be treated at the end of the lives or in a medical emergency. However, the ALDW can help process any standard document.

“There is a great deal of ambiguity without an advance health directive,” Ms. Plummer adds. “Those unanswered questions become a burden, causing great distress and discord among loved ones. People show up at the hospital unable to advocate for themselves and with no guidelines for medical staff regarding how they want to be treated or not treated. The advance healthcare directive empowers an agent to speak for us if we cannot speak for ourselves. It can be difficult to start the conversation’ with loved ones, but the rewards far outweigh the initial awkwardness.”

Cottage Health System has recently designed an easy way for community members to have their completed advance healthcare directives scanned into the hospital’s electronic medical records, ensuring that if and when needed, one’s directive will be readily accessible.

Accessibility of advance healthcare directives has been a challenge and a gap in making sure that one’s health care preferences and values are known and addressed. For example, a person may have an advance healthcare directive, but its whereabouts are unknown, or it is with their legal papers or it is somewhere in a closet.

But now, by going to any Cottage Health System hospital in Santa Barbara, Goleta or Santa Ynez Valley, community members can have their advance healthcare directive scanned into the electronic records system, which protects privacy, whether or not they have a medical chart.

Completed directives can be brought to the hospitality desks at all the Cottage hospitals, and the staff will deliver them to the Medical Records Department.

One can also mail or email their document to Cottage Medical Records. Cottage’s website,, posts instructions, and people can also call the office of the Alliance for Living and Dying Well (845-5314) to get instructions and support to complete the directive.

Carol Schwyzer of Santa Barbara recently completed her advance directive, and highly recommends others do the same.

“Filling out the Five Wishes advance healthcare directive with my daughter Elizabeth brought us closer because we communicated our feelings and now have a sense of facing things together. Although she’s only 31, Elizabeth filled out hers, too, so now I have a clear statement of her intentions should she be in a serious accident, etc. We will not be caught unprepared!”

To register for Get it Done Today! call (805) 845-5314. For locations and hours of the various sites, visit


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