Senior issues hit legislature

Groups stress need for CARE Act, retirement savings plans

By Mac McLean / The Bulletin

Oregon’s largest senior advocacy group is throwing its support behind a proposed piece of legislation that would guarantee people who provide unpaid care to a family member or loved one are taught how to properly treat the person before he or she is sent home from the hospital.

Citing a survey that found half the state’s older voters are or have been family caregivers, AARP Oregon called on members of the state legislature to pass the Caregiver Advise, Record and Enable Act when they go back to Salem to start their 2015 session.

“Family caregivers are being asked to do so much work and it’s causing them a lot of stress,” AARP Oregon Political Director Jon Bartholomew said as he explained the need for the CARE Act, which will be formally introduced later this month.

Bartholomew said his organization also wants to make sure the state legislature moves ahead with its plans to create a way that will help people save for their retirements if they do not have access to a 401(k) or an Individual Retirement Account through their employer.

It is joined in this effort by SEIU Local 503 and the union’s partners in Fair Shot Oregon.

The CARE Act

Last summer, AARP Oregon interviewed 800 registered voters in Oregon who were 45 or older and found 16.8 percent of them are currently providing unpaid care to an older family member or another loved one. It found another 39.7 percent have provided care to their loved ones in the past.

Bartholomew said these caregivers do a difficult job because they often have to help their loved ones get dressed, drive them to appointments, take them shopping, manage their finances and help them with routine household chores (see “Caregiver duties on D2”).

They may also have to manage their loved one’s medications and perform complicated medical tasks such as giving an injection, dressing wounds, using a catheter and using a feeding tube.

Bartholomew said these tasks can be very difficult for someone who hasn’t had any medical training. Performing these tasks incorrectly can also have a negative impact on the person’s health, he added, which is why it’s important to make sure caregivers are taught how to do them if necessary.

But despite the difficulty and importance associated with these tasks, Bartholomew said he’s heard stories about caregivers who weren’t given any information about how to care for their loved one when he or she was released from a hospital outside of the instructions that were printed on a sheet of inside the person’s discharge packet.

“Even IKEA gives you pictures of what you’re supposed to do,” Bartholomew said, explaining the CARE Act, which has already become law in Oklahoma and New Jersey, would help solve this problem if it becomes law in Oregon.

Though its full details are still being worked out — including who would sponsor the AARP-supported bill when it is introduced — Bartholomew said the proposal would require hospitals to find out if a patient has a caregiver and contact that person when it’s time for the patient to be released. The hospital’s staff must also show the caregivers exactly how to perform any medical tasks they will be responsible for when treating the patient at home.

“We already do all of these things,” said Debbie Robinson, the director of patient services at the St. Charles Health System.

Robinson said the nursing staff at her system’s hospitals go out of their way to find a patient’s caregivers — both unpaid and paid caregivers — so they can be sure that person knows what he is supposed to do before the patient is released.

She said hospitals have a vested interest in taking these steps because if the caregiver makes a mistake, the patient could end up right back at the hospital where they were discharged from and could be in worse condition than they were in when they were first admitted.

“There’s a number of hospitals that are already doing what’s in the CARE Act,” Bartholomew said. “They might do everything well, they might do some of it and they might want to do more (than what the act requires.)”

Even though this is the case, Bartholomew said it’s still important for the legislature to adopt the CARE Act because it would set a minimum set of standards all the state hospitals would be required to follow when discharging patients.

He also said the legislation is important because it would give hospital officials a reason to review their discharge procedures, particularly when it comes to older patients and their caregivers, and make any improvements they think are needed.

Retirement savings

But while the CARE Act is his organization’s top priority this year, Bartholomew said he and several other groups are also paying attention to a bill that would continue the work the legislature started when it created the Oregon Retirement Savings Task Force in 2013.

Chaired by Treasurer Ted Wheeler, the task force released a report this past September that found more than half the state’s workers have saved less than $25,000 toward their eventual retirements and a fourth of them have saved less than $1,000.

The task force called on the state to fix this problem, creating a retirement savings plan that would give people a chance to save toward retirement if they do not currently have a plan through their employer.

“We’re really at the cusp of offering a simple, straightforward way that people can save,” said Heather Conroy, executive director of SEIU Local 503 and a member of the newly formed Fair Shot Oregon.

Conroy said the legislature is expected to create a new retirement savings commission that will be responsible for creating these plans when it goes back into session next month. She and other members of Fair Shot Oregon — a group of community organizations that is dedicated to improving life for working families — want to make sure the proposed retirement savings plans:

•  Come with a simple payroll deduction that employers can fill out quickly and easily every time they send out their payroll,

•  Have features that automatically enroll covered employees and set a minimum contribution that someone can increase or decrease if they so choose,

•  Are portable so the covered employee can take his savings plan and his contributions from one job to another,

•  Combine their members’ resources into one large investment pool so the fees charged for each transaction will be kept low, and,

• Must be designed in a way so they do not present the state government or the employer with any extra risk or financial liability.

Conroy said each of these features will make it easier for individuals to save money toward their retirements. She expects these plans to look something like the state’s 529 or College Savings Plans, but made it clear the commission will be responsible for their details once it is formed.

— Reporter: 541-617-7816, mmclean@bendbulletin.com

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