New Mexico State Rep. Tomás Salazar knows first hand the joys and challenges family caregivers face. He is one himself. However, as he worked to get House Joint Memorial 4 passed during the 2014 legislative session, he began to realize the widespread challenges family caregivers face.
Salazar is the second oldest of six siblings — five brothers and one sister — but only three of them live close to his mother, Dolores, who turned 93 on Aug. 15. Although his sister, Lucy, is the mother’s primary caregiver, Salazar, his brother David and their spouses also help out.
Up until two years ago, his mother insisted on staying at the family home at least during the day. But following a medical episode, the family knew someone needed to be with her full time.
"The one thing that is a joy and a pleasure, as a traditional Hispanic family from a rural area, is that we are very close. Our mom is important to us. Having a family matriarch encourages the extended family to share time together,” Salazar said. “There was never any question really that the family would look after her.”
New Mexico supports family caregivers
When AARP New Mexico State Director Gene Varela asked Salazar to sponsor House Joint Memorial 4, which establishes the New Mexico Family Caregivers Task Force and directs it to create a state plan for family caregivers by November 2015, Salazar eagerly accepted. He already knew some of the challenges family caregivers faced, but he had no idea the extent of the need until he began talking to more people about issues they face.
“After I started conferring with Gene (Varela) and others involved in caregiving situations and with other people actually doing caregiving, it became apparent that addressing this issue is critical to our state,” Salazar said.
Some caregivers were working while caring for a loved one. Others were tending, 24 hours a day, to loved ones with a severe illness or disability.
The more people he spoke with, the more need he saw.
“I was pleasantly surprised that the memorial received unanimous bipartisan support. It was refreshing, as a relatively new representative, to see my colleagues both in the House and the Senate get behind this memorial,” he said.
Salazar hopes the task force will:
- Increase awareness of the issues that family caregivers face and the resources available to them
- Identify policies or legislation to improve caregiver resources across the state and to improve coordination of and access to those resources
- Let caregivers know they are not alone
“I’m very optimistic because of the quality of the individuals who have already stepped up to become members of the task force — that speaks volumes. I think they are up to the challenge of coming up with the very best possible solutions,” Salazar said.
“We are already trying to get some legislative action on caregiving together for the next session. The Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act would ask hospitals to place a designated caregiver in the patient’s file when admitted, notify that caregiver when the patient is being discharged and give that individual information to help care for the patient upon their release,” he said.
AARP recently named Salazar as a 2014 Capitol Caregiver, a bipartisan group of 46 state legislators and three governors from 19 states who were integral to the passage of key caregiving legislation in 2014.