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New Bills Urge Support for Ohio Caregivers

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For the past 15 years, Semanthie Brooks has cared for older family members at her home in Macedonia—first her parents, then her mother-in-law. Brooks, a 71-year-old retired social worker, says she wouldn’t change a thing, but she acknowledges the challenges.

“You can’t do this on your own for years and years and remain physically and mentally healthy,” she says. “You need to find help.”

Aiding the state’s estimated 1.5 million family caregivers is a top priority for AARP Ohio. Its focus: advocating with state lawmakers for greater access to health care, more financial support and improved resources for caregivers and recognition of their work.

With a rapidly aging population, the state would be wise to increase funding for family caregiving, says Latoya Peterson, AARP Ohio’s associate outreach and advocacy director. Helping people stay in their homes is a generally less expensive, and often more desirable, alternative to taxpayer-supported nursing homes, she says.

Ohio’s family caregivers contribute $16.8 billion in unpaid work every year to care for ailing spouses, aging parents and loved ones with disabilities, AARP research shows.

AARP Ohio is optimistic about legislation that the General Assembly will likely consider this year. It would improve access to health care for family caregivers and those receiving their help, Peterson notes.

One proposal, which has bipartisan support, would remove the requirement that advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) enter into oversight contracts with physicians. Making it easier for APRNs, such as nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists and certified nurse-midwives, to offer health care in the full scope of their training could help address primary-care-provider shortages, especially in rural areas, proponents say.

About 1.8 million Ohioans live in areas with a shortage of health care professionals, according to federal Bureau of Health Workforce data. 

Another bill would help regulate the rapidly growing use of telehealth in Ohio.

It would expand the types of providers who can bill for telehealth, add new qualifying services and implement new ways for providers to see patients across state borders. It also would expand telehealth to include email and phone calls, not just video visits. Such changes would help family caregivers more easily access health care for their loved ones and for themselves.

“Now, during a pandemic, this is just commonsense legislation,” Peterson says.

Finding local resources

AARP Ohio has also developed a guide with resources and tips for the state’s family caregivers. 

It includes contact information for state agencies, such as the Ohio Department of Aging, as well as local nonprofits, which can help address a variety of needs, from transportation and meals to legal and financial issues. 

The guide also contains advice on how caregivers can find respite care and connect with others like themselves to share ideas and support one another.

Self-care is key, says AARP volunteer Ernestine Jackson, 79, of Columbus, who looked after her late mother. “You can take better care of the person you’re caring for if you watch your own mental and physical health.”

Find the guide online at aarp.org/ohio/caregiver-resources. Or you can order a printed copy by calling 877-333-5885. 

AARP Ohio’s Speakers Bureau also has volunteers trained to give presentations on caregiving to clubs, church groups and other community organizations.

To request a presentation, click here.

Sarah Hollander is a writer living in Cleveland.

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