By Doug Dickerson, State Director, AARP North Carolina
Every day, a silent army of North Carolinians performs a great labor of love by helping their parents and spouses remain at home. While these family caregivers wouldn’t have it any other way, they need some help. That is why AARP is fighting to support those who make it possible for older adults and other loved ones to live independently at home—where they want to be.
Family caregivers are the first line of defense against people being forced from their homes and into nursing homes or back into the hospital—and it’s not easy. Caring for mom or dad can be expensive, stressful, and isolating, not to mention, family caregivers often put their own health and well-being second, third or fourth.
If you aren’t a caregiver today, chances are you have been one before or will be one in the future. There are nearly 1.8 million family caregivers in North Carolina who help their older loved ones with medications and medical care, meals, bathing and dressing, chores and much more. Many do it all while working full- or part-time. Some are on call 24/7, and often they can’t even take a break.
Unfortunately, their contributions aren’t recognized enough. According to AARP’s report Valuing the Invaluable, family caregivers in North Carolina provide an estimated $1.7 billion dollars in unpaid care each year, saving payers like Medicaid and insurance companies a significant amount. Their economic contributions are 3.5 times more than what Medicaid spends on long-term support services in the state.
As we look ahead to this year’s legislative session and next, AARP North Carolina is working to change the way we talk about caregiving and long-term care for our loved ones. AARP along with its network of volunteers and active community partners are working on both short and long-term relief for family caregivers.
To start off, we can help with some basic support—and commonsense solutions—like training, help at home, flexibility at work, and tools to make big responsibilities a little bit easier.
This year, the General Assembly has an immediate opportunity to make progress by adopting the Uniform Adult Guardianship Act (State House Bill 817) that recognizes legal guardianship across state lines. North Carolina is one of only a handful of states that doesn’t recognize legal guardianship established in other states, which would be like NC not recognizing a Tennessee driver's license. This results in duplication of efforts and added legal fees for guardians, who are usually well-meaning adult children taking care of elderly parents or persons with dementia.
When it comes to supporting family caregivers who need to safely help loved ones remain at home, the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act, as enacted in 19 other states, recognizes the critical role family caregivers play in keeping their loved ones out of costly institutions by;
- providing hospital patients with an opportunity to designate a family caregiver;
- requiring hospitals to notify the family caregiver if the loved one is to be discharged to another facility or back home; and,
- requiring hospitals to provide the designated caregiver with an explanation and live instructions of the medical tasks such as medication management, injections, wound care, and transfers that the family caregiver will perform at home.
Many leading hospitals already take these steps, but most do not yet, so AARP will be educating health care providers and lawmakers about the benefits of the Act that not only improves care, but reduces unnecessary hospital readmissions and prevents the facilities from being penalized under Medicare payment rules designed to reduce unnecessary readmission costs. This saves taxpayers money!
To create more momentum this spring, the General Assembly has requested recommendations from the North Carolina Institute of Medicine’s Task Force on Alzheimer’s and Dementia Related Care. The Task Force, made up of leading experts across the state, is developing a North Carolina Alzheimer’s Disease Action Plan to provide policymakers, funders, and stakeholder organizations with the common vision and action steps needed to address Alzheimer’s disease and its effect on our state.
In the meantime, if you or someone you know is providing care to a loved one, AARP’s newly updated NC
Family Caregivers Guide www.states.aarp.org/nccares provides contact information for all of the local, state and national resources to help family caregivers in the state. AARP’s Caregivers Resource Center at www.aarp.org also has a wealth of information and resources including a network of both experts and caregivers for emotional support and solid advice.