By Michelle Crouch
Dunn resident N. Carnell Robinson, 68, has been his wife Gloria’s caregiver for 30 years, ever since she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Whenever she is in the hospital, Robinson asks the staff to include him in discussions about her care.
Yet, too many times he hasn’t received crucial information.
“They’ll tell us she is being discharged tomorrow at 11 a.m.,” he said. “I’ll show up at 11, and she will have already been given all the instructions. A lot of times I have questions and have to try to track down her nurse or doctor.”
That’s why Robinson strongly supports legislation backed by AARP North Carolina that would require hospitals to identify a patient’s caregiver, keep that person informed about care and provide discharge instructions.
Catherine Sevier, volunteer state president of AARP North Carolina, said the goal of the Caregivers Act is for patients to have a smooth transition out of the hospital.
Over 40 states have approved similar legislation. A University of Pittsburgh study found that such laws cut hospital readmission rates by about 25 percent.
More than 1.2 million family members provide unpaid care in North Carolina, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute. They often tackle challenging duties like medication management and dressing wounds.
Taking on new tasks
“Many times a patient will leave the hospital with new routines, dressings that need to be changed and a completely different set of medicines,” said Sevier, 68, of Greensboro, whose background is in clinical nursing. “A well-informed caregiver can make sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed after the patient gets home.”
The North Carolina Healthcare Association, representing the state’s hospitals, has concerns about the measure. Hospitals already have programs to involve caregivers, said Cody Hand, its senior vice president for advocacy and policy.
Hospital administrators are also concerned that the proposal would delay a patient’s discharge if a caregiver were not present.
“There have been variations of these laws passed in other states, and I’m happy to consider the options that were supported by other state hospital groups,” he said.
Lisa Diaz Riegel, AARP North Carolina’s director of advocacy, said the law is not meant to cause a delay in the discharge process and she is working to address that concern. She added that she is optimistic about the prospects for the legislation.
AARP North Carolina is backing other legislative proposals this year to support families and caregivers, including efforts to:
- Increase the number of long-term care ombudsmen, who investigate complaints of abuse and neglect and protect the rights of residents of long-term care facilities. The state has three dozen now, and AARP is requesting another 10 to meet the recommended national standard.
- Increase the personal-needs allowance for nursing home residents on Medicaid, who can now keep only $30 a month in income to pay for items such as clothing and toiletries. That amount hasn’t changed in 32 years, making the state among the last to raise the allowance.
- Boost funding for each county’s adult protective services division, which investigates elder abuse and neglect.
Michelle Crouch is a writer living in Charlotte.