You did it! With a little over half of the year behind us, I want to reflect on the legislative success made possible by AARP volunteers like you.
Dozens of volunteers met with elected officials, while thousands of home-based activists sent important e-mails and made calls. Volunteers even staffed community events, talked to the public about the issues at stake and convinced many to sign petitions to elected officials. Even more boldy, some volunteers told their personal stories in videos, helping the public to better understand the issues and what they mean to individuals and families.
Some actions were tried-and-true, yet volunteers also experimented with new tactics, such as hosting special theme “lobby days” at the State Legislature. From posing as casino dealers to highlight the savings crisis at the “Don’t Gamble with your Retirement Future” Day to setting up a “kissing booth” (with Hershey kisses) on Valentine’s Day to show our love and support for caregivers and the role they play.
Thanks to all of your advocacy, together we’ve secured several legislative wins this year, including new laws that further implement recommendations from the NC Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease that AARP NC helped lead in 2015-16.
Uniform Power of Attorney
With your urging, legislators passed the Uniform Power of Attorney Act (UPOAA), SB 569, a law that makes many important updates to old Power of Attorney laws that were previously consistent across state lines. It also addresses concerns from individuals, banks, guardians and others related to preventing and stopping financial abuse or exploitation. It is also another legislative recommendation from the 2016 NC Alzheimer’s Task Force.
The Act helps to address questions that people may not have considered such as what happens to my power of attorney if I divorce my spouse who serves as my POA, what happens if I want both or all of my children to serve as my POA and what happens if they are in disagreement, or what happens if my POA is abusing his power and stealing from my bank account.
Overall, the legislation ensures that those serving as agents on your behalf act in good faith, that provisions similar to other states are in place to recognize multiple agents and ensure that your wishes are honored, and that protections are also in place to stop financial abuse and exploitation when suspected.
The use of the internet, video streaming, and telephones to facilitate medical care, also known as telemedicine or telehealth, has been growing because it offers many healthcare services to patients in their own homes, without the need to drive to a healthcare facility. For example, a person with congestive heart failure or diabetes may be able to automatically record health data and electronically transmit it to the doctor or nurse, who can easily review and call the patient if there is a concern or a need to modify medications.
Telemedicine can save you time and money by avoiding trips to the hospital or doctor’s office which can be avoided through this type of remote medical monitoring. With the passage of HB 283, the state will study advances and capabilities of telemedicine and recommend policy to next year’s legislative session.
Nurse Licensure Compact
North Carolina and the nation are facing a significant shortage of registered nurses. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that by 2020, nearly half of RNs will be at traditional retirement age. As seasoned nurses retire, wait times will likely increase for medical care. House Bill 550 helps reduce nurse shortages in North Carolina by allowing licensed professionals who practice in any state that is part of the Nurse Licensure Compact to also practice in NC without additional licensure requirements.
Nurses will still practice under the guidelines of each state’s laws and discipline, but they will face less red tape when it comes to providing care in-person, by phone or electronically (i.e. Telehealth). This bill is especially helpful for nurses who reside near our state’s borders since Virginia, South Carolina and Tennessee are all part of the Compact.
Alzheimer’s disease impacts 1 in 7 North Carolinians over age 65 and over 160,000 North Carolinians are living with this disease. To further combat and prevent Alzheimer’s disease, the legislature appropriated $1.2 million to Duke University Medical Center’s Bryan Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center to develop an Alzheimer’s Registry. The registry will collect and study data related to the disease and identify trends that could lead to prevention. AARP co-chaired the state’s Alzheimer’s Task Force in 2016 which recommended this measure.
Home and Community Care Block Grant Funding
The vast majority of adults prefer to live independently in their homes as long as they can. For many, this would be impossible without community resources such as transportation to medical appointments and home-delivered meals. The legislature added $1M more to the Home and Community Care Block Grant this year which covers these services, which is a 3.4% growth to annual total of $31M total. In future legislative sessions, AARP will continue to encourage the allocation of resources needed to reduce the growing waiting lists for these services.
NC United Way 211 Resource Line
For those who sometimes don’t know where to turn for community resources such as caregiving assistance, housing or financial support, the United Way NC 211 community resource line is the easy-to-remember “help is just a call away.” After providing $200,000 in 2016 to staff the Division of Aging with expertise for this program, this year the legislature invested another $250,000 directly in the United Way to boost the 2-1-1 capabilities in rural counties. AARP NC’s goal is for caregivers in any part of the state, no matter how remote, to be able to easily access help in their local community by calling NC 2-1-1. Moreover, AARP members donated $10,000 late last year to NC 211 because of its critical role in assisting victims of Hurricane Matthew flooding.
The Road Ahead
Our AARP NC team of volunteers, led by our state Executive Council, and our staff, has been working towards achieving these three goals for 2020:
- Improve retirement security – 90% of all workers to have access to a retirement savings plan by 2020.
- Transition our counties to become more “livable” and age-friendly – since 2015, county leaders representing 2.5M North Carolinians have started on action plans; goal to reach 5M by 2020.
- Caregivers and families can easily identify and navigate local programs and resources.
Together, we advocate for and offer programs that make life a little easier, more affordable and enjoyable for older adults. These recent successes in the legislature are certainly welcome improvements, thanks to the hard work and dedication of volunteers. While more is needed and we have a thorough plan for action, please spread the word that there is still room for more volunteers to join and have a meaningful role.
With the “long session” formally ended, we are now flexing our advocacy muscle to encourage local governments to become more age-friendly, recognizing that nearly all counties are underprepared for the rapid changes in age demographics. Few counties have Master Aging Plans as required by the Older Americans Act, and most are not yet aware of best management practices for social isolation, housing policy, and healthy living. If you would like to be involved with the age-friendly community work, please let us know by emailing your region’s Associate State Director or to our state office, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for all you do, and congratulations on these significant victories!