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Respecting Choices, the end-of-life planning program incubated in La Crosse and nurtured into a highly regarded health care staple around the globe, is taking another leap onto the national stage in an alliance with a Washington, D.C.-based group.

“It’s another example of how this thing that grew up in La Crosse is improving health across the world,” said Bud Hammes, director of Medical Humanities and Respecting Choices at Gundersen Health System and one of the inventors of the advance-care planning program.

Under a long-term agreement with the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care, Respecting Choices will transfer to the coalition, according to a coalition announcement Wednesday evening.

Respecting Choices, which evolved from a task force of La Crosse health systems in 1986, has become the favored model of advance care planning for more than 130 health systems and medical centers. It has more than 10,000 trained facilitators worldwide, with programs in health systems in Australia and Singapore, as well as an $8.5 million research project in six European Union countries.

The EU study, announced in March 2014, involves more than 1,200 advance-stage cancer patients in England, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Denmark and Slovenia.

Since then, a similar research effort has begun in Germany, Hammes said.

“Our program has exceeded expectations, thanks to the incredible support of Gundersen and the Gundersen Medical Foundation,” Hammes said. “But it became clear that for Respecting Choices to continue to grow and to be sustained, it needed a new home.

“We are thrilled to be part of C-TAC and expand our reach,” Hammes said.

“Most Americans will face advanced illness at some point — their own or a loved one’s. Yet our systems today tend not to support coordinated, person-centered care and conversations like these. We are changing that,” he said.

Founded in 2011, C-TAC is a nationally respected organization aiming to improve care for patients with advanced illness that will help expand the Respecting Choices model, Hammes said.

C-TAC Board Chairman Bill Novelli said, “We’re taking a major step forward in the movement to do better by America’s seriously ill. This will strengthen the health care system and help patients and families receive care that matches their preferences and values.”

Patients, partners, staffers and the public in general will continue to receive core Respecting Choices services under the partnership, as well as realizing additional benefits from other opportunities, C-TAC and Gundersen officials said.

One goal of the partnership is to integrate planning and decision-making into training for health professionals, they said.

“Our evidence-based model enhances the patient and family experience and the quality of medical care at Gundersen and at organizations where the model is used,” said Dr. Sigurd Gundersen III, a Gundersen Health System physician who is chairman of the board of the Gundersen Medical Foundation.

“We have found the right partner in C-TAC to accelerate the distribution of this patient-centered service,” Gundersen said.

Almost all of Respecting Choices staffers and certain key leaders will move from offices on Gundersen’s La Crosse campus to another location in the city, Hammes said.

The main office will remain in La Crosse and Respecting Choices will continue to operate out of La Crosse, although staffers will be C-TAC employees, he said.

“The mission and the content will be moving, but the program will remain the same,” he said.

The office location has not been finalized, although Respecting Choices is negotiating with the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce to lease office space in its headquarters at 601 N. Seventh St., Hammes said.

“This is going to move Respecting Choices from what other people consider a regional center to the national stage,” he said.

“What is really important is that we must support huge health systems and small that have adopted Respecting Choices,” he said. “This is built as an aspect of health care, and we want to expand this as well.”

“What is really important is that we must support huge health systems and small that have adopted Respecting Choices. This is built as an aspect of health care, and we want to expand this as well.” Bud Hammes, Gundersen Health director of Medical Humanities and Respecting Choices

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Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.

(1) comment


An awesome humane program deeply rooted in La Crosse!

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