RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- There is no vaccine and there is no treatment for COVID-19, but there is a proven way for families to avoid further emotional trauma in an emergency.
It's called a Advanced Health Care Directive, a legal tool that empowers individuals to take control of how he or she is treated - or not treated - when a disease like COVID-19 could put that person on a ventilator and unable to speak for him or herself.
"We can say everything from I want the full court press to I don't want intervention," Catherine Sevier, President of AARP North Carolina, explains to ABC11. "Full court press is ICU, tubes, full resuscitation or we can be in a situation where we say, 'I've lived a good life, and I'm sick in pain and I don't want these things.' We can be very specific."
Indeed, Advanced Directives are not new, but the soaring number of hospitalizations in North Carolina, (which reached another record Monday) and fears of a second wave of infections are leading many families to choose having tough discussions now rather than later.
"None of us want someone else deciding what care they get," Sevier added. "With families now being isolated from their family member, we're talking about having this kind of a discussion with someone we've never met before over a screen if we're lucky or over a phone saying, 'Your mother's condition is worsening and we don't believe that she's going to come off of a ventilator.'"
There are three parts to the Directive: the Health Care Power of Attorney, through which an individual can assign someone else to make health care decisions; the Living Will, which is specific to life-prolonging measures; and the signatures of two witnesses and a notarization.
Amidst the pandemic, however, lawmakers have temporarily waived requirements on witnesses and are allowing notarization via video conference. Sevier is hoping this change, which expires August 1, will get more buy-in from residents.
As many as 2.1 million adults ages 60 and older live in North Carolina, but the Secretary of State's office reports only 77,014 directives registered (just under 7,800 were added in 2017). The registration is optional, and many other entities offer templates for forms, but Sevier said it's still the exception and not the rule.
"North Carolina is one of four states that has the most onerous set of regulations," Sevier said. "You get in a car every day. You get in a car accident and you're unable to speak for yourself. What do you want done? It's that simple. We are all vulnerable to different things."
Experts push Advanced Directives as hospitalizations soar, second wave looms