This was the week that family caregivers all across Pennsylvania had been patiently awaiting for the past 15 months. Early in 2014, AARP volunteers in Allegheny County paid a visit to their State Representative, Hal English, to talk to him about some of the difficulties family caregivers face in caring for their loved ones. A particular issue caught the attention of Representative English, who serves on the House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee and works as an Elder Law Attorney – the concern that some family caregivers aren’t given the proper instruction on how to care for a family member after they have been discharged from a hospital. More than a year later, that meeting has resulted in Pennsylvania becoming the 25 th state to pass the Caregiver Advise, Record, and Enable (CARE) Act, House Bill 1329 sponsored by Representative English. The legislation was approved by the State Senate by a vote of 49-0 on April 11, followed by a favorable House vote of 196-0 on April 12. The bill now awaits the signature of Governor Tom Wolf.
For those new to the issue, the CARE Act requires hospitals to ask newly-admitted patients (or their designated representative) if the patient has a family caregiver who will be assisting them upon discharge. The hospital then will notify the family caregiver before discharge from the facility and will give the family caregiver instruction in how to care for their loved one once they return home. As AARP has talked to family caregivers across the country, it appears many hospitals already do this, and do it well. But there also have been many stories told by caregivers of how they felt unprepared to manage intricate medical tasks they were expected to perform because some hospitals did not demonstrate these tasks before discharge. The goal of the CARE Act is to help those family caregivers help their loved ones so they can continue on the road to recovery.
The CARE Act does place responsibilities on hospitals. But it offers hospitals something very important, too – a reduction in their readmission rate. Hospitals are anxious to have their patients leave their facility and recover – not to have them suffer a setback which would force their return to the hospital. It’s why the Hospital Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) was an early supporter of the CARE Act. HAP recognized that the time spent with a family caregiver before a patient was sent home was an investment in keeping the patient healthy and at home. Their support was instrumental in getting the legislation through the General Assembly.
Now that the CARE Act has passed with unanimous support from the legislature, what can family caregivers expect?
The CARE Act is on its way to Governor Wolf’s desk, awaiting his signature. Once the CARE is signed into law, there will be a one-year period before it goes into effect. During that time, hospitals will prepare to implement provisions of the law in their facilities across the Commonwealth and organizations like AARP will work to let consumers know what to expect should they or a loved one be admitted to a hospital.
At the same time, other issues that impact family caregivers will receive renewed focus. Respite for family caregivers, so they can get a break from their caregiving efforts, is one example of the kind of issue that must be addressed. The best news on this front is the overall issue of caregiving continues to receive increased attention from policymakers. In early April, the University of Pittsburgh’s Stern Center for Evidenced-Based Policy issued a comprehensive report about Caregivers At Risk.
The report’s lead author, former Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Everette James, mentioned how the CARE Act can be a low-cost part of the development of a comprehensive caregiver support strategy. Dr. James discussed the report and the future of caregiving in an article on a new website published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called Aging Edge, which contains valuable information on issues impacting Older Adults.
AARP’s Public Policy Institute also continues to carry out research about caregiving, and we can expect to see more information published and more solutions proposed over the coming months and years.
“Ray’s Round Up” features updates on current state and federal issues by Ray Landis, AARP PA’s Advocacy Manager.