Healing Handshake: The CARE Act

Illustration: VIGG

It’s a good thing when the state enacts a law to help families care for ailing loved ones—and do so in a more efficient manner.

Those are the goals of the Caregiver, Record, Enable (CARE) Act, which went into effect in May. The law, sponsored by state Senator Joe Vitale (D-Woodbridge), chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, and state Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus), seeks to provide tools to New Jersey’s 1.7 million family caregivers that will help sick family members stay at home longer.

In New Jersey alone, family caregivers provide more than 1 billion hours of care each year, according to the AARP, a driving force behind the act. In a survey conducted by AARP, 72 percent of family caregivers in New Jersey report performing medical and nursing tasks when caring for a loved one at home, including managing medications. The survey indicates that these caregivers often have little or no direction or training in patient care.

“More and more families are doing much more than driving loved ones to doctors’ appointments,” says Elaine Ryan, vice president of government affairs at AARP. “They are providing hands-on care, and half of them are providing some kind of medical task that, at one time, would’ve been performed only by a medical professional. So they need this support.”

What is a caregiver? It can be any designated individual who provides after-care assistance in the patient’s residence. It can be a relative, spouse, partner or friend. It does not have to be a family member.

The CARE Act requires hospitals to take the following steps:

Identify a designated family caregiver when a patient is admitted.

Notify the caregiver when their loved one is to be moved or discharged.

Provide that caregiver with an explanation, either live or by video, for the care of the patient following discharge from the hospital.

While the direct impact on family caregivers is the essence of the new law, it also aims to reduce costs to hospitals and nursing homes by lowering readmission rates. An average nursing- home stay per patient per year can cost upwards of $100,000. It’s clear that the longer a patient is cared for at home, the greater the savings.

“If you were to add up all the unpaid care that people provide to their loved ones, it would equal $13 billion a year,” Ryan says.

The CARE Act applies to anyone, regardless of age or ailment, who is admitted to an acute-care hospital in New Jersey. It is also available to people who already have a visiting nurse coming to their home.

A version of the CARE Act has been enacted in 10 states and is being considered in 30 others. “The long-term goal,” says Evelyn Liebman, AARP’s associate director for advocacy in New Jersey, “is for our health-care systems to recognize family caregivers as an integral part of a patient’s health-care team and as part of our long-term health-care system in general; to adequately support family caregivers by providing the tools and resources they need to improve the health outcomes of their loved ones, including the critical role family caregivers play in keeping their loved ones out of hospitals; and to support our desires to live at home and in our communities.”

The CARE Act should have a lasting impact on families and their ability to take care of sick loved ones in a more compassionate and cost-effective fashion. When government can do that, it makes us all feel better.

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