AARP members from across Pennsylvania today called on state officials to provide additional support for the 1.6 million family members providing care to older adults at home at a state capitol rally in Harrisburg.
More than 150 AARP members were joined at the event by Secretary of Aging Teresa Osborne; Andy Carter, President and CEO of the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of PA and state lawmakers who support HB 1329, the PA CARE Act.
“We’re all here to recognize a silent army that performs a great labor of love each and every day,” said AARP Pennsylvania State Director Bill Johnston-Walsh. “Family caregivers work tirelessly caring for aging parents, spouses, and other loved ones so that they can continue living independently, with dignity, at home—where they want to be.”
Pennsylvania’s 1.6 million family caregivers statewide currently provide 1.54 billion hours of unpaid assistance annually with a staggering value of $19.2 billion, according to an AARP study.
“If you aren’t a caregiver now, chances are you were one in the past, or you will be one in the future,” he said. “Without the help of family caregivers, too many of our seniors would end up in costly institutions—often paid for by the state, through Medicaid.”
Johnston-Walsh said common sense solutions would make a world of difference for family caregivers statewide. He called for:
• Senate approval of HB 1329, the PA Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act, that was introduced by State Rep. Hal English and passed by the House in June. Similar legislation has been approved in 16 states.
• Ensuring that caregivers have access to the right resources in the community, like home care and adult day care services. That means additional support for Pennsylvania’s existing home and community-based services funded with state lottery proceeds.
Caregiver Shares Moving Personal Story
At the rally, caregiver Tamesha Keel of Carlisle described how she served as the primary caregiver for her mother for the last 2.5 years of her life, which inclu
ded being diagnosed with moderate Alzheimer's followed by stage 4 breast cancer—all while maintaining a full-time job.
“Despite the challenges, I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be with my mother and create precious memories,” she said. “I would not trade that experience for anything in the world.”
“I firmly believe that more resources are needed for caregivers due to the significant responsibility that they have in caring for loved ones,” she added. “To all of the caregivers out there, just know that your tremendous labor of love is not in vain.”
New Report Demonstrates Value of Family Caregivers
AARP Pennsylvania State President Jim Palmquist reviewed a new AARP Public Policy Institute study, Valuing the Invaluable: 2015 Update that shows family caregivers in 2013 provided 37 billion hours of care nationwide —worth an estimated $470 billion.
Highlights of the study include:
• As Americans live longer and have fewer children, fewer family members will be available for older adults to rely on for everyday help in the future. The ratio of potential family caregivers to the growing number of older people has already begun a steep decline. In 2010, there were 7.2 potential family caregivers for every person age 80 and older. By 2030, that ratio will fall sharply to 4 to 1, and is projected to drop further to 3 to 1 in 2050.
• Family caregivers report that the stress of caregiving affects their physical and emotional health, finances, and their jobs.
o More than half (55%) of family caregivers report being overwhelmed by the amount of care their family member needs.
o Nearly 4 in 10 (38%) family caregivers report a moderate (20%) to high degree (18%) of financial strain as a result of providing care.
o In 2014, the majority (60%) of family caregivers had full- or part-time jobs. U.S. businesses lose more than an estimated $28 billion annually in lost productivity due to absenteeism among family caregivers working full- and part-time.
“From laws that make sure family caregivers have the instruction and information they need when their loved ones leave the hospital, to programs that help them take a hard-earned break, AARP is fighting in Pennsylvania and around the country because supporting family caregivers is a top priority for all of us,” said Palmquist.
CARE Act Needed for Pennsylvania
Johnston-Walsh added that passage of the CARE Act represents AARP’s highest legislative objective for Pennsylvania. The new law is necessary because:
• Most care recipients (69%) did not have a home visit by a health care professional after discharge from the hospital.
• 46% of family caregivers perform medical or nursing tasks for their loved ones.
• 78% who provide these medical or nursing tasks manage medications, including administering intravenous fluids and injections.
• Most family caregivers report that they received little or no training to perform these tasks.
HB 1329, which enjoys broad support among lawmakers and advocates for older adults, features three important provisions:
• The name of the family caregiver is recorded when a loved one is admitted into a hospital:
• The family caregiver is notified if a loved one is to be discharged to another facility or back home; and
• The facility must provide an explanation and live instruction of the medical tasks that the family caregiver will perform at home.
“Family caregivers have a huge responsibility,” said Johnston-Walsh. “We urge lawmakers to approve the CARE Act and provide essential support to caregivers who are safely helping older Pennsylvanians remain at home.”
He added that additional support for caregivers will help them better face the unprecedented demands that can leave caregivers emotionally stressed and financially strained as they try to balance work and family obligations.
“Most importantly, we want to recognize these unsung heroes and say thank you to family caregivers for all that they do,” said Johnston-Walsh. “Every day, they give their hearts to help their older loved ones stay at home--and they deserve our help.”