The AARP Care Act, which went into effect April 20, has the potential to help the 1.65 million caregivers of elderly in Pennsylvania, according to a panel discussion Thursday in Whitehall Township.
Hosted by Lehigh Valley Aging in Place Coalition at Fellowship Community, panelists Vanessa J. Cambria-Mengel and Deb Levengood, both project coordinators at Quality Insights in York, provided data and information on caregiving in the Lehigh Valley and Pennsylvania.
“We are known in Pennsylvania to have one of the largest elderly populations in the nation, and that continues to grow,” Cambria-Mengel said.
According to a study of long-term services and support systems, caregivers make up 1.65 million people in Pennsylvania.
“A caregiver can be anyone from a relative, a friend, a sibling, a spouse, a neighbor… and they’re usually unpaid,” Cambria-Mengel said.
Caregivers are people who help take care of patients after being discharged from a hospital who do not have additional services provided to them, or may need additional services.
The CARE Act, which is an acronym for caregiver, advise, record and enable, seeks to educate caregivers on how to prevent situations where patients would need to be readmitted to the hospital.
“The average U.S. caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who works outside the home and provides over 20 hours per week in unpaid care to a patient or someone that they’re taking care of,” Cambria-Mengel said.
In a statistical analysis in 2009, caregivers provided an estimated $450 billion of unpaid care to patients in the state.
Cambria-Mengel said Pennsylvania ranks 36th in the nation in terms of support for family caregivers. The new law, however, requires health care facilities to keep caregivers better informed about a patient’s care.
“What that means is support for family caregivers as far as offering them prevention of abuse and neglect, the improving of a caregiver’s knowledge and skills, the support of caregivers with early identification of patient problems that would prevent a readmission, and managing that patient’s care in a home setting, developing their psycho-motor skills on a training process for a safe administration of medication, or the use of any equipment that that patient might go home with,” Cambria-Mengel said.
The medical and nursing tasks undertaken by caregivers are increasing. In a 2015 study, 78 percent of caregivers manage medications (including IV and injections), 43 percent help with assistive devices for mobility such as canes or walkers, 41 percent prepare food for special diets, 35 percent provide wound care (bandages, ointments, prescription drugs for skin care, or to treat pressure sores or post-surgical wounds) and ostomy care, and 32 percent use meters/monitors (thermometer, stethoscope, weight scales, blood pressure monitors, oxygen saturation monitors), administer test kits and use telehealth equipment.
“This is definitely a challenge for individuals going home will all these [needed services], and that can be overwhelming,” Cambria-Mengel said.
The CARE Act seeks to help involve family caregivers, or whoever is assigned, from a patient’s hospital admission to discharge.
The act provides the patient the opportunity to designate his or her caregiver, and it ensures that hospitals include the caregiver in discharge planning and provides necessary training for patients once they go home.
It also allows hospitals to consult with the caregiver on the discharge plan, taking into account the caregiver’s capabilities and limitations and include contact information for necessary health and community resources in the discharge plan. It also requires the hospital to give the caregiver the opportunity to receive instruction on all after-care tasks included in the discharge plan, and allows the caregiver the opportunity to ask questions.
“AARP has an ‘I heart caregivers’ website which has multiple resources with information regarding the CARE Act,” Cambria-Mengel said. “The site is a great resource center for caregivers to stay up-to-date on the newly implemented act.”