Guest Columnist

We need the Iowa CARE Act

Sunset turns the sky pink over the State Capitol in Des Moines on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Sunset turns the sky pink over the State Capitol in Des Moines on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

As this year’s state legislative session nears conclusion, a number of statewide organizations representing hundreds of thousands of Iowans have joined together to urge passage of the 2018 Iowa CARE Act. This is a no-cost, common sense step to support Iowa’s caregiving families when their loved ones go into the hospital and as they transition home. In its most recent form, the proposal has no recorded opposition. In fact, all Iowa health care provider groups who had previous concerns have agreed to the latest House version of the 2018 Iowa CARE Act. Now it’s time to get the job done.

The 2018 Iowa CARE Act includes three basic steps to support caregiving families. It asks that all Iowa patients have the option to designate and record a family caregiver when admitted to the hospital; the family caregiver is notified when their loved one is to be discharged to home; and, before discharge, the family caregiver is provided with the instructions of the medical and nursing tasks — like wound care or injections — that they must perform for their loved ones at home.

I know the need for this bill first hand. Last year, my wife and I cared for our adult daughter following major surgery. For us, just like so many other Iowans, family caregiving meant needing to know how to perform complex medical tasks that she and I had never before attempted: caring for a serious wound along with complex medication management. We are not alone.

More than 317,000 Iowans help older parents, spouses, adults and children with disabilities and other loved ones so they can live safely and independently in their homes and communities. The unpaid care these family caregivers provide — valued at about $3.8 billion a year — helps keep older Iowans out of costly, taxpayer-funded institutions, or from going back into the hospital.

Sixty-five percent of family caregivers in Iowa, today, are managing medical tasks and overseeing medications. They are also assisting their loved ones by handling finances, shopping and household chores, and providing transportation to appointments.

Today, Iowa is one of only 14 states that do not have a similar to the 2018 Iowa CARE Act in place to support family caregivers. No federal laws, rules or regulations — including those for Medicare — define the steps hospitals must take so family caregivers are engaged in their loved ones’ care.

Bottom line: We know Iowa hospitals work to provide the best possible care for their patients. But the fact remains that too many of Iowa’s family caregivers are not receiving instruction and demonstration of the medical tasks they need to perform for their loved ones.

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In states where the CARE Act is law, nurses and other health and social service professionals say it has helped them engage family caregivers and reduce unnecessary hospitalizations.

Across party lines, registered voters throughout Iowa are highly supportive of the 2018 Iowa CARE Act. It’s time for Iowa to adopt a minimum standard of consistent support for all Iowa family caregivers Act this legislative session. We’re counting on you, as our loved ones count on us..

• Chuck Betts of Keokuk and is volunteer state president of AARP Iowa.

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