Tomas 3In the last few minutes of the 2014 New Mexico Legislative Session, lawmakers endorsed the idea of developing a family caregiver state plan.  House Joint Memorial 4, sponsored by Rep. Tomás Salazar and shepherded through the Senate by Sen. Michael Padilla, was passed by the Senate 13 minutes before adjournment.

“We hear over and over again that people, who are taking care of a loved one, don’t consider themselves caregivers. It’s just something they do,” said Gene Varela, AARP New Mexico State Director. “Therefore they don’t look for resources and aren’t aware that help is out there.”

“This Memorial establishes a task force, which will be made up of a variety of organizations and government agencies, to take a hard look at family caregiving in our state. It will identify what resources and programs are available for family caregivers and what is needed as well as raise awareness that families can get assistance. It’s not something people need to do alone,” Varela said.

“We are very grateful to the Memorial’s sponsors as well as the leadership in both houses for getting HJM4 passed. We’re glad to have the full support of the Legislature as it passed both houses unanimously,” he said.

Currently, about 40 percent of women and 37 percent of men in New Mexico are providing care for someone. There is also an economic side to that care. The value of that care is estimated to worth $3.5 billion annually in New Mexico.  At the national level it is estimated that unpaid care provided by family caregivers would cost about $450 billion dollars. Additionally if everyday families weren’t picking up that care, the long-term care system would be overwhelmed.

“Even though New Mexico is recognized as a leader in helping individuals remain independent in their own homes and communities, family caregivers and the work they do are still sometimes forgotten,” Varela said.

“As a result, AARP New Mexico proposed the memorial after holding a discussion with key individuals and organizations last fall. Everyone gathered around the table believed that getting lawmakers’ backing was important to bringing this work to the forefront of state policy,” he said.

In the next few weeks AARP New Mexico and the New Aging and Long-Term Services Department will work together to begin the work of the memorial, which calls for the development of a state caregiving by November, 2015. 

“The passage of HJM4 happened thanks to the hard work of the sponsors, support by legislative leaders and all the members of the Legislature but even more importantly the hard work of New Mexico’s AARP volunteers who provided testimony, and visited with key legislators,” Varela said.

 “AARP New Mexico also thanks Secretary Gino Rinaldi and staff of the NM Aging and Long Term Services Department for working with us to develop a Memorial that can be accomplished.  The Department recently led the effort for a State Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders State Plan that also acknowledges the value of family caregivers. So we’re looking forward to working with Secretary Rinaldi and his staff as we proceed,” he said.

 (Photo caption: State Rep. Tomas Salazar, center, discusses the progress on HJM 4 on the floor of the House, with Leonel Garza, AARP New Mexico Legislative Committe Chairman, left, and AARP New Mexico State Director Gene Varela, right.)

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