On Thursday, September 22nd, State Representative Chris Walsh addressed a room of 30 elder care providers at Youville Place to discuss the positive impact of a caregiver support bill in Massachusetts. “We are just the leading edge of a large tsunami of people who will want to stay in their homes as they age,” said Walsh. He explained that most older adults strongly prefer to remain in their homes, even as they begin to rely on increased physical and cognitive support. This desire to remain at home, the cost of skilled nursing support and the increasing needs of frail seniors has placed a burden of care on unpaid family members.
Mike Festa, State Director of AARP, joined Representative Walsh to discuss the importance of House Bill 3911, known as the Caregiver Advise Record Enable (CARE) Act. They believe the CARE Act would help ease the burden on caregivers. The CARE Act has nearly unanimous, bipartisan support in the State House. Representative Walsh told the providers that it was currently in the Ways and Means Committee, where disagreements on the bill’s language were being reviewed. He is optimistic that the bill will pass, but also encouraged the providers gathered at Youville Place to call their representatives and express their support for the bill.
The CARE Act is already law in 29 states. It was authored by AARP and first passed in Oklahoma in 2014. Mike Festa told providers that advocacy on behalf of care givers is a leading priority of AARP. “Care givers in Massachusetts provide an estimated $11 million of unpaid services for family members or loved ones. We estimate around 844,000 people in Massachusetts alone are providing these services.”
What is the CARE Act and how will it help?
AARP outlines the three key provisions of The CARE Act as follows:
-A hospital patient is provided with an opportunity to designate a family caregiver.
-The family caregiver is notified if the 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 – such as medication management, injections, wound care, and transfers – that the family caregiver will perform at home.
“The CARE Act is not particularly heavy lifting,” said Walsh. “What it does is start the conversation about care givers and how they are treated.”
Under current law, hospitals often send elderly patients home with ongoing care required. Complex tasks such as injections, wound care, transfers and medication management have to be performed by unpaid family caregivers who have never worked in medical settings. Their lack of experience and instruction can lead to stress, mistakes, and very often, readmissions to the hospital.
Representative Walsh’s reasons for championing the bill are personal to a large degree. He and his wife have been caring for Walsh’s father, who has dementia. “I understand the stresses that so many care givers experience every day,” Walsh said. “In many ways, I am lucky. My wife and I are in a situation where we can accommodate the needs of my father – we’ve been able to adapt our home so that he can stay there securely. Most people simply can’t do that.”
The CARE Act is an important first step in recognizing the sacrifices made every day by care givers in Massachusetts.