New Law Aims to Help Caregivers

Charles Williams sets up a temporary ramp outside his home in Toledo to help care for his 96-year-old mother. Photo by Nick Hagen
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Charles Williams’ mother, now 96, was given morphine just before she was released from the hospital a couple of years ago.
 
“They gave her the morphine, and they expected me to take her home, like, now,” said Williams, 58, of Toledo.
 
His mother was living on her own at the time. “I dropped her off; everything seemed fine,” he said. “Then I got home and got a call from the fire department. She had pushed her alarm button; she was hallucinating.”
 
Under the Ohio Caregiving Act, which took effect March 21, Williams could have received directions about what to expect and how to provide care for his mother after she left the hospital.
 
“Hospitalization can be extremely disorienting for even the most competent patient,” said state Sen. Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering), who introduced the bill in the Senate. “The Caregiving Act will help ensure that patients receive the care they need when discharged.”
 
The law, which received strong support from AARP, is similar to laws in 31 other states and the
District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. It allows patients 55 and older or their guardians to designate a family caregiver to help after a hospital stay. The caregiver may then be involved, along with the patient, in reviewing the hospital’s post-discharge plans.
 
Caregivers should be given a demonstration of tasks required for post-hospitalization care and have a chance to ask about what to expect in making the transition from the hospital to home.
 
The hospital also may offer information on community health or long-term care providers who may be able to help, and any other information the hospital staff believes will aid in the “successful implementation of the discharge plan,” according to the law.
 
Best practices codified
State Rep. Sarah LaTourette (R-Chesterland), who sponsored the bill in the Ohio House, testified before a House committee last year that there are nearly 1.7 million Ohioans providing unpaid care each year to family members—and the numbers are expected to double by 2035. “Given that these individuals are often serving as caregivers to enable their loved ones to remain at home in the face of complex medical conditions, trips to the hospital are inevitable and terrifying,” LaTourette said.
 
The new law “puts in place some small but meaningful supports for caregivers during these transitions,” she said.
 
Many Ohio hospitals already provide such instruction, said Trey Addison, AARP Ohio advocacy director. “What the act does is codify the best practices,” he said. “A number of hospitals do a lot of the practices that are in the Caregiving Act, and this makes sure that the whole health care system in the state is in sync.”
 
The Ohio Hospital Association took no position on the bill and declined to comment.
 
Addison said the new regulations will help hospitals by “reducing the likelihood of folks coming back and forth to the hospital.”
 
Reducing preventable re¬≠admissions “by just over 1 percent over the next two years would save Ohio nearly $16 million,” LaTourette said.
 
The bill unanimously passed the legislature last year and was signed in December by Gov. John Kasich (R) as part of a larger law on palliative care.
 
Williams, who works as a consumer advocate for the University of Toledo Medical Center’s Ryan White Program, said the new law could be especially valuable for people who are experiencing the caregiving role for the first time.
 
“I’m 58; my mother is 96. I know how to deal with her,” he said. “But it would be helpful to have the hospital say ‘this is what you need to do when you take her home.’ ”
 
Noreen Willhelm is a freelance writer who lives on a farm just west of Dayton, Ohio.
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