One of the biggest misconceptions about health crises and end-of-life planning is that, in moments when you can’t speak for yourself, your loved ones will naturally know what you want.
“Don’t assume that,” says Eternally cofounder and CEO Matti Perilstein.
Helping people avoid expensive, stressful, and emotionally fraught periods of confusion about medical care is the goal at his Narberth, PA-based company, which was founded in early 2020 by Perilstein and Patrick FitzGerald.
Services to help people navigate end-of-life healthcare decisions in advance aren’t new, but “we are the first 100 percent digital, one-on-one personalized advance-care planning platform,” says Perilstein. Eternally lets people schedule a conversation from home “when they’re emotionally ready.”
Perilstein, a Philly native who has a decade of experience working as a healthcare consultant, was inspired to launch Eternally when she read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, a manifesto on end-of-life care that prioritizes wellbeing over survival. The business plan got a boost last January when she met FitzGerald, and the pandemic “certainly accelerated things.”
We are the first 100 percent digital, one-on-one personalized advance-care planning platform.Matti Perilstein, Eternally
“There is a desperate lack of resources and I feel like this is something that can be utilized now and always,” she adds, noting that two-thirds of Americans do not have an advance directive. “Nobody wants to have these kinds of conversations. Eternally can help.”
In the event of an incapacitating accident or illness, an advance directive (also known as a living will or healthcare proxy) is a legal document outlining who can make medical decisions for you, which decisions that person is authorized to make, and what care you do and don’t want to receive. And it’s not just for elderly people — it’s a smart thing for any adult to have, especially in the middle of a pandemic.
Perilstein points to research indicating that 80 percent of Americans with chronic or long-term illnesses want to die at home, but 70 percent of patients end their lives in a hospital or nursing-home setting.
Eternally has a remote team of about 30 nurses and social workers experienced in end-of-life planning. An introductory session costs $100, which Perilstein notes is less than many lawyers’ hourly rate for related services.
“A 40-minute meeting with a care team member will get you through an advance directive document,” she explains. “[You’ll] make your choices and understand how those choices will manifest in an emergency.”
All that remains is to print your completed document and sign it with a witness. At that point, it’s legally binding. If your directive changes — because of new decisions, a new relationship, or the death of your healthcare proxy — a follow-up session to update the document is easy.
With an expert to go over the questions with you and fill out the form for you, clients who might otherwise be overwhelmed by the process can get important instructions in order.
Eternally is partnering with a growing number of hospitals and health systems (a benefit of their location about half an hour northwest of Philadelphia) in southeastern PA and beyond. These partners refer clients to the platform, but you don’t have to be under a health system’s care to book a session — anyone can do it by visiting myeternally.com.
The company is growing. They’re seeking to add up to seven new health system partners in the coming months, and they’re hiring both for their care team, and their technology and operations team.
There’s never a single answer for what moves people to take the step to complete an advance directive, says Perilstein. Some get encouragement from doctors, some survive a health scare and look to the future, and some are shaken by a loved one’s crisis.
“It’s part of life, and we can’t avoid it,” she says, but that doesn’t mean it’s not tough to deal with. Eternally care team members have an average of ten years’ experience in this field, so when clients sit down for their call, “they can expect to be met by care and compassion, and understanding that these discussions can be really difficult.”
ALAINA JOHNS is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and the Editor-in-Chief of BroadStreetReview.com, Philly’s hub for arts, culture and commentary.