Hospitals must try to ID caregivers for discharged patients

For untrained home caregivers called upon to assist someone being discharged from the hospital, Thursday, April 20, marks a new era.

It is the effective date of Pennsylvania’s CARE Act, passed by the Legislature a year ago to make hospitals more diligent about identifying and educating caregivers of discharged patients. AARP and other groups prodded for the measure, similarly adopted in some two dozen other states, to recognize the increased responsibilities of caregivers in the modern health care era.

The law’s basic mandates are that hospitals are supposed to try to identify a family member or other caregiver for each admitted patient; contact that caregiver prior to the patient’s discharge; and provide any medical-related instructions that might be needed for the caregiver to properly assist the patient’s recovery at home.

Known formally as the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable Act, the law is recognition that most patients don’t receive home visits from health care professionals in their homes and most family caregivers lack health care training, according to AARP. The law’s supporters said it was needed because caregivers may be called upon to help with injections, intravenous fluids, bandages or helping someone safely in or out of a bed or chair, among other tasks that may be new.

While many hospitals may already have been guiding caregivers and patients about how to manage at home, the new law standardizes it. Hospital staff are to make sure that caregivers are educated either in person or by video about what’s needed, if they don’t already know what to do. A recent study by the University of Pittsburgh Health Policy Institute reported that involving informal caregivers in discharge planning can reduce hospital readmissions by a quarter.

There are no enforcement penalties to make sure hospitals comply, but the Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania supported the law. A legislative study of compliance is to be completed within five years.

Gary Rotstein: or 412-263-1255.


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