Bill Aims To Share Medical Information To Patient Caregivers

BATON ROUGE (AP) — When Tracette Hillman took her father home from the hospital after his multiple brain surgeries, she received little instruction on how to clean and care for the tube in his throat. Instead, she taught herself.

         "I sat in my father's hospital room all day long, watching them do everything, so I could know what to do, how to take care of him," Hillman said.

         AARP Louisiana doesn't think it should have been that way and is pushing legislation that aims to better inform caregivers about the medical tasks they'll need to perform when they take patients — most often their family members — home from the hospital.

         The measure coasted through the Senate health committee, with the support of the Louisiana Hospital Association, and could come up for full Senate consideration this week.

         AARP Louisiana estimates 660,000 people are caring for aging parents or other loved ones, support that helps keep people out of nursing homes and off government aid programs. The need for volunteer assistance is expected to grow as millions of people are living longer.

         But providing that care can be stressful.

         "They're performing very complicated tasks for folks with chronic illness, and these include managing medication, preparing food for special diets, dealing with monitors and other special equipment," Andrew Muhl, advocacy director for AARP Louisiana, told senators.

         By receiving more information before someone leaves the hospital, "they have a better chance to keep their loved one safely at home," Muhl said.

         The bill, sponsored by Sen. Yvonne Dorsey Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, would require hospitals to give each patient the opportunity to designate a caregiver. Hospitals would have to attempt to consult with designated caregivers and give them discharge plans describing patients' after-care assistance needs.

         Twenty-one other states have similar laws on the books, Colomb said. In addition to the hospital association and other health advocacy groups, Louisiana's proposal has the backing of Gov. John Bel Edwards and has won support from both Republicans and Democrats.

         "Anything that makes it easier for old folks to travel on this path is something that we're obligated to do," said Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge.

         Members of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee said they received an outpouring of phone calls and letters from people urging their support.

         Britnee Fergins, a 30-year-old chemist from Shreveport, traveled to Baton Rouge for an AARP rally touting the legislation. Fergins, who has a 3-year-old son, also cares for her 91-year-old father, a World War II veteran diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2013.

         Fergins cooks for him, does his grocery shopping, makes sure his bills get paid, takes him to the doctor and helps him with his medicine. But early on, she had trouble finding out what her father needed.

         "Before I got power of attorney for my dad the doctor wouldn't tell me anything. I didn't know his medicine. I didn't know what he needed to eat, for his nutrition. They wouldn't talk to me. They would only talk to him. He has Alzheimer's so he can't remember what they tell him. He can't come back and relay the information," Fergins said.

         Hillman, 52, recalled similar problems getting details about how to care for her 75-year-old father, who is paralyzed on one side after getting a bacterial meningitis infection more than three years ago. Hillman moved home from California to take care of her dad.

         Hospital staff "would explain things to my father, knowing that he had three brain surgeries and probably couldn't remember things 24 hours later, and not tell us. They would give him medication and not tell us," said Hillman, human resources director for the City of Abbeville.

         Hospitals, Hillman said, need to remember a caregiver is "the person who has to deal with all these issues."

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte

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