There are some things to consider when a loved one is admitted to the hospital including establishing an advanced directive and durable powers of attorney, making their healthcare wishes known, listing caregivers on HIPAA forms at their physicians’ offices, documenting and sharing family and personal medical history, and communicating medical insurance information.
Equally important are matters pertaining to their discharge. No matter the length of the stay, we all want to get back to the comfort and safety of our home. Our loved ones are no different. Studies show that many are so anxious to leave the hospital that they’re not honest about whether they can manage their discharge. They say they understand instructions when they really don’t. They say they have caregiver help even if they’re alone.
Here are some issues to consider before your loved one is discharged from the hospital:
Who will manage your loved one's care transition?
If your loved one was hospitalized, most likely their abilities will have changed during their hospital stay. For many of them, hospitalization results in functional decline despite curing or repairing the condition for which they were admitted. They may experience a decline in muscle strength, instability when walking, a decline in appetite or thirst, or increased incontinence.
Since your loved one's condition may have changed, they may not be able to return home unaided right away, and you may need to make alternate plans. The hospital discharge planner will offer guidance, but many decisions will need to be made by him/her and you. What role will your s/he be willing or able to play? Who besides you will want to take part in those decisions?
How will you navigate the complex choices in front of you?
What skilled nursing facility do you choose? What in-home care agency? How much can your loved one afford, and what would they want? How will you get the facts about their options?
Would you want professional guidance, someone to bounce options off of? What informed impartial resource is available to help you navigate these choices? How will these decisions play out in the long term? You can get a list of questions to ask when making medical decisions at www.thecaregiverspath.com.
Who will stay with your loved one for the short term?
Most likely a caregiver will have to assist with him or her for a while. Who can take time off from work?
Which family member is best for the hands-on work? Once the choice of who will stay is made, what is the plan to cover the responsibilities of the person who will be caring for them? Even in the best of families, these decisions often require empathy and good negotiating skills. While one may take the lead, others can play an important role. The free online service, Many Strong (www.manystrong.com), can help you coordinate care for a loved one so you can get much needed logistical, financial and emotional support.
Do you have what you need to assist your loved one during their care transition?
If your loved one will be staying in a rehab facility, do you have the key to his/her home to get the things s/he may need? Do you know the items s/he would want to bring? Does s/he have legal documents and information you need to be able to access and pay bills? Do you have contact information for others that may need to be informed the situation? Do they have a pet that needs taking care of?
How will you share information among those concerned?
Will one person be the disseminator of information? Who will return calls from family and friends? How will you communicate— phone, email or text?
One last note: During the recuperation process, keep in mind that your loved one wants to feel they are a contributing member. What they need from you is support during this transition so they can get back to living as independently as possible.
You can help your loved one have a better hospital experience and recovery by speaking up and being their primary advocate by encouraging them to do the same as soon as they are able. This is an important, but easy role to overlook.
Don’t underestimate your role as an advocate; your loved one’s health may depend on it.