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Easing Caregiver's Burden

New Connecticut law allows home health aides, with proper training, to administer medications

Late last year, Janet Ferracci-Carter, 68, of Southington, received a desperate call from her cousin Patty, 65, who lives in the same town.

"I need help. I don't know how I am going to be able to keep my promise," Patty cried.

See also: Caregiving Resource Center

Patty was taking care of her husband, Joe, 65, who was terminally ill with lymphoma. She had promised him he would not have to go into a nursing home. But Patty (who wishes to remain unidentified) immediately ran into a large problem: While the couple could afford a home health aide for eight hours a day, the aide was legally prohibited from administering medication, which Joe needed at least three times a day.

A restrictive law

According to Connecticut law at the time, only a nurse, which the couple could not afford on top of the aide, or specific family and friends were allowed to administer medications.

Even with an aide present, Patty could not leave the house: If Joe had a panic attack, he needed immediate medication. Ferracci-Carter and others took turns administering meds and, when the aide was not there, tending to Joe's other daily needs so Patty could run errands.

Ferracci-Carter stopped by daily. "We'd log in what medications he had been given and when, so Patty could follow," she recalled. "We did that for five months until Joe passed away last Memorial Day," Ferracci-Carter said. "If she had not had our help, I don't know what she would have done, or how she could have kept her promise."

During that experience, Ferracci-Carter joined AARP Connecticut in a successful lobbying effort to get the law changed. Registered nurses will soon begin training home health aides to administer medications. Starting Jan. 1, the trained home health aides will be able to give medications.

"By the end of June 2013, we expect to have 400 home health aides certified to administer medication," said Anne Foley, undersecretary of the state Office of Policy and Management.

The new law is expected to benefit:

  • Patients — who will be able to receive medications at home, rather than having to hire a registered nurse or move to a nursing home.

"Allowing nurses to delegate this task to a professional home care worker — who may already be providing services in the home — saves money, provides a needed break for family members and supports an individual's choice to remain in their home as they age," said Susan C. Reinhard, director of the AARP Public Policy Institute (PPI).

  • Caregivers — who previously had to take time off work or be dependent on a network of helpers in order to give medications. They will now be able to leave home, "with peace of mind that somebody who is trained is there," said Jill Heidel, a Bethel retired registered nurse who lobbied for the law change.

In Connecticut, the estimated economic value of caregivers' unpaid contributions was approximately $5.8 billion in 2009, according to a PPI study released last year.

  • Registered nurses — who will be able to "get back to doing what they are qualified to do: attending to overall assessment and critical needs," said Heidel.
  • The state of Connecticut — which will save millions of dollars in Medicaid spending. A 2011 study in New Jersey found that the cost of having nurse-supervised home health aides give medications for a year was slightly less than the cost of four days in a nursing facility per beneficiary.

Extensive training required

To administer medications, home health aides must complete a 32-hour training program and pass a written and practical exam.

Registered nurses will still be the ones giving injections and administering medications to critically ill patients. Aides will only administer medications to chronically ill patients. The nurse must visit and assess the patient at least once a month.

To find Connecticut resources for caregivers, contact the Connecticut Association for Home Care & Hospice.

When you go to a home health agency, ask to see certification that the home health aide is properly trained to give medications, as well as references, federal and state criminal screenings and drug background reports. If they don't provide the information, go elsewhere.

For more information on and assistance with caregiving, go online to the AARP Caregiving Resource Center.

Beth Levine is a freelance writer living in Stamford, Conn.

Also of interest: Have a question? Ask the pharmacist.

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