What if I Can’t Avoid the Hospital Right Now?

Howard County Leaders Tell You How to Prepare for Healthcare During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Declare who should make your medical decisions if you can’t.

A health care agent, or health care proxy, is the person you assign to make your medical decisions if you have an emergency and can’t speak for yourself. Right now, most Howard County medical facilities do not allow family members to visit or accompany you to appointments, hospital stays, or even trips to the emergency room. That means now, more than ever, doctors need to know who to call if you lose the ability to communicate.

  • Use MyDirectives to declare your health care agent/proxy. You can declare your health care agent online, in minutes. MyDirectives makes your health care agent’s contact info available to medical facilities across Maryland. Get started. 
  • Set up a phone appointment to get help declaring your health care agent. Karen Shelton of Howard County General Hospital provides step-by-step help. Email her at HCGH-ACP@jhmi.edu or call 443-518-6684.



Tell your health care agent what kind of care you’d want.

Since it’s unlikely that your health care agent will be able to visit or be in your room during a hospital stay, the best way to stay in control of your care is to tell your agent what you’d want, now.

It’ll be an ongoing conversation, but here are three questions to get you started.

Email, text, or call your health care agent to share your answers.

I would be most worried about: 

  • Being alone
  • Being in pain
  • Being a burden 

If I got very sick, I would prefer to stay: 

  • At home
  • At the hospital

If I were in the hospital and facing a medical emergency:  

  • I would want the medical team to do everything possible to preserve my life.
  • I would want to avoid being kept alive by machines.

Email answers to your health care agent

Download questions as PDF

Plan how you’ll stay connected to loved ones and your community.

Most Howard County healthcare facilities are encouraging patients to stay connected with loved ones through video, phone calls, and text. Several facilities note that care teams can help patients get set up.

  • Bring smartphone, laptop, tablet, and chargers. If you have a planned hospital stay/visit coming up and have a “go bag” packed, put a post-it on top of the bag so you remember to grab these items.
  • Text/email your loved ones now to agree on which platform you all will use to connect. Download that app now. 
  • Ask if your house of worship is streaming services online and find out how to watch. Here’s a partial list of faith groups that are streaming services.
  • Connect to virtual events in the County. Check out this list.

Check to see if your elective procedure is still scheduled.

Many elective procedures or elective surgeries – those planned in advance rather than out of emergency – are being cancelled or rescheduled to safeguard patient and provider health. 

  • If you haven’t received a call or email to update you on the status of your procedure, call your doctor to check if it’s still scheduled.
  • If your elective procedure is still scheduled but you have concerns about going into the hospital at this time: 
    • Ask your doctor to explain your options (can your procedure be rescheduled or take place at a different facility?) 
    • If you choose to reschedule, do so as far in advance as possible to avoid any cancellation fees. 

Check who can visit or accompany you.

Most facilities have stricter visitor policies right now, and it’s unclear how long they will be in place.

  • When reviewing visitor policies, look for these specific changes: 
    • Exceptions. Most local facilities list exceptions for certain patients (e.g., those receiving end-of-life care, going into labor and delivery, etc.). Still, facilities may limit the number and type of visitors that may come. 
    • Drop off of patient’s essential items. Some facilities allow families to drop off “essential items” at a designated area of the hospital. Examples include hearing aids, glasses, medication, phone chargers, etc.
    • Symptom checking. Many local facilities screen any essential visitors for flu-like symptoms. If symptoms are present, visitors will not be able to stay.

Practice self-care (now and while in the hospital).

Many of us are feeling more anxious or stressed right now – that’s completely normal. It’s critical to intentionally take steps to care for yourself and ensure that those steps are doable whether you’re at home or at a hospital.

Try to hit on these categories in your self-care during COVID-19. For each category, you’ll want to find the specific activities that work for you.

  • Do something that relieves stress (squeeze a stress ball, use a breathing app).
  • Do something that keeps your mind active (word games, sudoku).
  • Stay connected to loved ones (schedule a weekly video call, send one text a day).
  • Take time to appreciate what’s good in your life (set a daily “grateful alert” on your phone, keep a running list of all the things you’re grateful for).
  • Take intentional breaks from consuming news (set a daily news cut off time, sign up for the daily newsletter of one reputable news source and make that the only news piece you read each day).
  • Move your body (sit in bed and have a dance party, stretch every morning).