Like more than 771,000 Marylanders (mostly women in their 40’s and 50’s), I am a family caregiver. My father, age 78, has been suffering from life-threatening emergencies since 2012. He has emphysema, congestive heart disease and kidney cancer. Although I am not a trained nurse, I have changed his colostomy bag, assembled a hospital-provided nebulizer without instructions, organized daily medications, and provided nutritious meals.
Dad’s current hospital used to ignore my presence as a relative in the emergency, intensive care and intermediate care rooms. But that has changed now, and I attribute it to the passage this year of Maryland’s CARE Act. Under the law, which took effect October 1, Maryland hospitals are now required to identify a patient’s caregiver by the time of discharge, notify the caregiver of discharge date and time, and share discharge instructions including how to perform medical tasks.
I have to say I am impressed with the turnaround! In the past, I had to insist that my name and cell phone number be entered into the hospital computer as a family contact. But I was never called.
Now, they ask my father for a caregiver’s name. When doctors, nurses, and other staff enter my father’s hospital room, they actually make eye contact with me, greet me and then proceed to talk with him. Sometimes they even include me in the conversation.
Nurses call me regularly with questions regarding my dad’s medications or to inform me of any major developments, not just to arrange for discharge. This particular hospital draws much of its business from a large retirement community nearby. They go above and beyond the CARE Act’s call of duty and embrace its spirit fully.
Under the CARE Act, my input is not just valued, it is solicited because we are all partners in the care of this patient. Hospital doctors and nurses are realizing that a discharged patient is less likely to return to the hospital any time soon if he or she is well-cared for at home. Also, hospitals avoid financial penalties from insurers by improving after care.
Family caregivers are exhausted, unpaid workers who often give up paid, skilled work to assist with minimal training. Now hospitals recognize us as their partners and empower us to look after our loved ones. The sharing of information among all parties surrounding the patient is the key to success and it is working right here in Maryland!
Author Laurie Kelly @LaurieKellyMD
Note: AARP volunteer Laurie Kelly of Takoma Park cares for her father, who suffers from multiple fatal conditions and insists on living alone, and for her husband, who has Parkinson’s Disease and a post-surgery spinal stimulator. Laurie’s caregiving responsibilities include coordinating hospice care, accompanying her loved ones to doctor and hospital visits, as well as performing many medical tasks at home. She uses her experience to advocate on behalf of all family caregivers, at the local level and at the State House in Annapolis. For more information on the Maryland CARE Act, visit www.aarp.org/mdcareact. To share your caregiving story, visit www.iheartcaregivers.org.