By Susan Milligan
Iraq war veteran Doug Mercer had been home in McAlester, Oklahoma, for just four days when he was in a motorcycle accident that left him broken and brain-damaged.
His wife Michelle became his caregiver after he left the hospital, but nobody there explained how to transport him safely. A few weeks later, Michelle struggled as she tried to get Doug from the car to his wheelchair, breaking his leg.
“They’re sending you home, and you’re thinking, ‘What?’ Nobody instructs you, and says, ‘This is what’s coming home with you and how to use it,’” she said.
The Mercers’ story was a driving force behind an Oklahoma law that took effect in November that requires hospitals to train a designated family caregiver to tend to the medical needs of a released patient.
As many as 42 million Americans take care of a family member at any given time.
Since then, 12 more states (Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Virginia and West Virginia) have approved similar laws. In Illinois and New York, legislation is awaiting the governor’s signature.
As many as 42 million Americans take care of a family member at any given time. Traditionally, family caregivers provide assistance with bathing, dressing and eating. They shop for groceries and manage finances.
But as the number of elderly Americans with chronic conditions has grown, family caregivers have taken on medical tasks once provided only in hospitals, nursing homes or by home care professionals.
In an AARP survey released in 2012, nearly half of family caregivers said they administered multiple medications, cared for wounds, prepared food for special diets, used monitors or operated specialized medical equipment. Continue reading