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House Bill 139, the CARE Act, Gives Family Caregivers Formal Role in Patient Care

Rep. Armstrong Speaks to AARP

When Betty’s husband suffered from complications during surgery, caring for him also became much more complicated. 

“He had to go under the knife twice again and now he has a hole the size of his fist that has to be changed and repacked twice a day,” Betty said. “I was taught to change his dressing and repack his openings. It is a good thing that I have a strong stomach because changing the bandages and repacking his wounds is bad.” 

“I have to make sure he takes his meds and I check his sugar count and give him his insulin shots. He has to have help to get dressed and shower,” she said. 

Betty is among the 419,000 New Mexicans that have taken on the task of caring for a loved one each year. Like Betty they are simply doing what needs to be done. 

Now AARP New Mexico is supporting a bill during the 2015 Legislative Session that will help those family caregivers receive more recognition, support and education. 

House Bill 139, also referred to as the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act, is sponsored by Rep. Tomás Salazar, D-Las Vegas, and Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque. The bill asks hospitals to formally designate a family caregiver in the medical record when a patient is admitted; notify that caregiver when the patient is discharged or transferred to another facility; and provide education about any medical or nursing tasks that the caregiver must perform once the patient is discharged. The bill was prefiled Friday, Jan. 16th.

“At AARP, we believe it is not only time to recognize the support that family caregivers provide but to put more resources in their hands to make these tasks easier,” said Gene Varela, AARP State Director. “People don’t realize the impact family caregivers have. It not only keeps people out of costly nursing homes but the value of that care amounts to $3.1 billion each year.”

Rep. Salazar knows first-hand the joys and challenges family caregivers face. He joins two of his siblings in caring for his mother. However, in 2014, as he worked to pass House Joint Memorial 4, which established the New Mexico Family Caregiver Task Force, he began to realize how widespread are the challenges family caregivers face. 

“After I started conferring with Gene (Varela) and others involved in caregiving situations and with other people actually doing caregiving, it became almost a sign that this issue is a crisis in our state,” Salazar said. 

Salazar said that getting HB 139 passed is a good first step in getting family caregivers the support they need but more is needed to be done. 

“We need to start recognizing the tremendous service that families provide when caring for their loved one. To them it might just seem like something you do -- taking care of mom and dad – but it’s so much more than that. These individuals are providing a valuable service,” he said. 

Rep. Armstrong also has experience with family caregiving. She has worked in the health and aging fields, including serving as the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Cabinet Secretary from 2004 to 2008. 

“I believe HB139 gives family caregivers a more active voice in the care their loved on receives,” Armstrong said. “It only makes sense that the person that is providing day to day care and will largely be responsible for ensuring a patient’s speedy recovery, be more actively brought into the process.” 

For more information on HB139 as it goes through the legislative process, visit www.AARP.org/nm for regular updates. To share your own caregiving stories or comment on the bill e-mail AARP New Mexico at NMAARP@aarp.org.

  (Photo caption: Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, discusses her commitment to family caregivers with AARP New Mexico's Legislative volunteers)

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