By MARJORIE LYONS, AARP Oklahoma State President
There’s a group of unsung heroes that fan out every day across Oklahoma. In cities big and small, rural and urban, they do things like give baths and help others get dressed. They dispense medicine and provide transportation to doctor’s appointments. They are family caregivers.
Nearly 600,000 family caregivers in the Sooner State make it possible for their loved ones to live independently at home. By helping with basic tasks of daily living, their mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters can stay at home where they want to be, rather than move to a more costly nursing home.
Chances are: you know, have been, or are a family caregiver.
I hear stories from family caregivers all the time. They work hard to help their loved one live at home, while trying to keep up with their own jobs and make ends meet. They are unselfish, underappreciated and, sadly, often undertrained.
More and more, family caregivers are being asked to perform medical or nursing tasks at home after a loved one is discharged from the hospital. Often, they receive little or no training on how to do these necessary tasks and may not even be told when their loved one is about to be sent home.
The burden of performing nursing tasks without proper training is tremendous. It not only puts extra stress on the caregiver, it can result in the patient being readmitted to the hospital. And, Oklahoma hospital readmission rates are already high. According to a report released by Kaiser Health News in 2013, 58% of Oklahoma hospitals were penalized by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for excessive hospital readmissions.
AARP believes there is a simple way to reduce hospital readmissions and allow seniors to continue living at home: we strongly support Senate Bill 1536 by Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa. This bill would allow patients to designate a caregiver at the time of their hospital admission and require hospitals to provide the caregiver with training on the patient’s post-discharge care needs.
As a retired nurse, I have seen first-hand the value of giving family caregivers proper training. I want to urge you to contact your state legislator and ask him or her to join Senator Crain in supporting Senate Bill 1536.
Finally, I want to thank and applaud Governor Fallin for recognizing the important role of family caregivers by declaring February as “Oklahoma Caregiver Month.” Passing SB 1536 would be a fitting way to honor and support family caregivers in Oklahoma.
(Marjorie Lyons, a retired nurse from Broken Arrow, is State President of AARP Oklahoma.)