AARP Oklahoma State Director Sean Voskuhl speaks at a press conference unveiling survey results on caregiving.

AARP Oklahoma State Director Sean Voskuhl speaks at a press conference unveiling survey results on caregiving.

Nearly all Oklahomans think it is important to provide better training for family caregivers, according to a new survey today released by aging advocates at the State Capitol.

AARP Oklahoma, which commissioned the non-partisan survey of 400 likely Oklahoma voters, said the results were timely since the Legislature is considering a bill that would strengthen training for family caregivers and allow patients to designate a caregiver at the time of hospital admission.

Senate Bill 1536 by Senator Brian Crain, R-Tulsa and Representative Harold Wright, R-Weatherford, was approved by the state Senate February 18th and now awaits action by a House committee, according to AARP Oklahoma State President Marjorie Lyons.

“It is clear the majority of Oklahomans want better support for the nearly 600,000 family caregivers in the state,” said Lyons, a retired nurse. “SB 1536 will ensure family caregivers get the training they need to properly care for their loved ones after they are discharged from the hospital. We are calling on the Legislature to pass this important legislation this session.”

In addition to AARP, the proposal has also been endorsed by the Oklahoma Alzheimer’s Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the Oklahoma State Council on Aging, the Oklahoma Alliance on Aging and the Oklahoma Silver Haired Alumni Association, Lyons said.

Pollster Bill Shapard, CEO of SoonerPoll.com, which conducted the scientific survey, said three out of four respondents said they would support legislation allowing patients to designate a family caregiver and require hospitals to teach those caregivers how to care for a loved one after they return home from the hospital.

“The results indicate broad-based support among Republicans and Democrats for legislation to strengthen training for family caregivers,” he said. “Not a single respondent said they were against this idea and in this fractured political climate any time we see consensus of this magnitude, it should make lawmakers take notice.”

Other key findings include:

  • 92% of respondents believe having a designated and well-instructed family caregiver could reduce costly hospital readmissions.
  • 94.4% of likely Oklahoma voters agreed that having a designated and well-instructed family caregiver could help patients stay in their homes longer rather than being placed in a more costly assisted living facility or nursing home.
  • 93.8% of respondents said it was important to them to be able to return and recover in their own home after being discharged from a hospital and three out of four surveyed (77.7%) said being at home with assistance from a family caregiver would be ideal when basic tasks of life become more difficult.
  • Two out of three respondents (66.4%) believed it to be likely that they themselves would be an unpaid caregiver in the future for a relative, spouse or friend.

In addition to survey results, Shapard also shared his first-hand experience after his father was recently discharged from the hospital.

“A recent and unexpected hospitalization of my 64 year-old father exposed the need for such legislation,” he said.  “My father moved from the ER to the ICU to a hospital room over the course of a week, had five doctors of various disciplines on this records, a dozen different nurses, and a long list of different medications.  It was expected that he would be released to recover at home over the next two weeks and little to no instruction was given on how to make that at-home recovery successful.”

AARP Oklahoma State Director Sean Voskuhl said Shapard’s story is indicative of the extra burden being placed on as many as 50 percent of family caregivers nationwide.

“Unless we make sure caregivers get more training on how to perform medical and nursing tasks following a loved one’s discharge from the hospital, we can expect hospital readmissions to continue to rise,” he said. “This will force many older Oklahomans out of their homes into nursing homes and continue to be a tremendous financial burden on the state.”

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority reported last year the state spent more than $62 million on Medicaid readmissions that occurred within 30 days of initial discharge, he said.

“Our interest in this legislation is based on increasing the flexibility a family may need in order to create more communication options for these families,” said Randle Lee, Regional Director of the Oklahoma Alzheimer’s Association. “A family’s ability to designate individuals they trust to communicate with the hospital – whether the person is family or not – will enhance the quality of care for the patient with little to no increase in healthcare costs.”

Voskuhl said AARP members from across the state were at the State Capitol today urging lawmakers to pass SB 1536.

“The survey reinforces that most people want to be able to recover at home and giving family caregivers better training will make that possible,” he said.  “AARP Oklahoma will continue fighting to provide family caregivers more resources and support as one of its top priorities.”