Project brings discussion of advanced care planning to Somali, Latino communities

When it comes to discussing end-of-life care, it’s often hard to know where to start. A new program hopes to make these conversations a little easier.

The Hello Project, sponsored by the Hospice Foundation of America, aims to help underserved populations learn about advance care planning through activity-based discussions in 35 locations nationwide, including the Rice/Steele County area.

Through a partnership between HealthFinders Collaborative, Somali Community Resettlement Services and the Honoring Choices advance care planning program of Allina Health in Faribault and Owatonna, a series of sessions invited members of the Rice County Somali and Latino communities to start conversations about these difficult topics.

To get discussions flowing, the Hospice Foundation provided a card game called “Hello” that asked questions ranging from “Who haven’t you talked to in more than six months that you would want to talk to before you died?” to “What music do you want to listen to on your last day alive?”

The questions are designed to get people thinking about who they could entrust with their end-of-life care, should they become unable to make their own decisions due to injury or illness. Asking simple questions is a way to ease into a topic that many see as threatening, said Kerry Hjelmgren, Faribault Honoring Choices coordinator.

In total, 25 residents of Northfield and Faribault, ages 22–73, came together for one of several sessions offered in November, with about half attending a Somali-language session and half attending a Spanish-language session. Participants also received a copy of the Honoring Choices health care directive in Spanish or Somali, with instructions for requesting facilitation with an interpreter, if needed.

The Hello Project focused on the Latino and Somali populations in an attempt to bring them into the larger conversation and counteract the false assumption that these cultures just aren’t interested in the discussion, said Natalie Marfleet, with Healthfinders in Northfield. It’s an approach that acknowledges the unique perspectives of diverse languages, cultures and religions whose needs may be overlooked.

“I think anytime we’re able to have discussions that make people feel like they’re empowered, that make people feel like they have choices, those are positive things for the community,” said Marfleet.

Participants didn’t shy away from the topics. Rather, all reported that they would recommend the activity to loved ones, according to Hjelmgren. Within the groups, faith and family emerged as central guiding factors in advance care planning.

Part of Honoring Choices’ larger goal is to bring these conversations to everyone, of any age or culture.

“We want to be sure that everyone over the age of 18 starts to have these conversations as early as possible so we know what brings meaning to one’s life, what brings comfort to one’s life, what decisions someone might have to make on their behalf,” said Hjelmgren.

After the positive reaction to the Hello Project’s first round, Hjelmgren hopes to facilitate more sessions in the future, and to expand offerings to the diverse communities of Northfield, Faribault and Owatonna. And since all participants leave with a booklet of questions to take back to family and friends, the discussion can expand beyond what Honoring Choices can host — which is exactly the goal.