Hawaii bill seeks to boost training for lay caregivers

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HONOLULU (AP) — A bill in the Hawaii legislature that seeks to boost training for lay caregivers is pitting the state's hospitals against the AARP.

Nurses, health care providers and advocates for the elderly crowded into a Senate committee hearing and offered two hours of testimony on the bill Tuesday. The proposal would require hospitals to provide training to a designated caregiver, if one is available, before a patient is discharged.

The AARP, which sought the bill, argued that providing adequate training to lay caregivers is essential as Hawaii's elderly population grows and friends and family increasingly handle care for the sick and disabled. Hospitals would train lay people, either in person or using video technology, in tasks like dressing wounds that they are asked to carry out at home.

But representatives from the health care industry opposed the bill, saying it exposes hospitals to liability if a home caregiver has problems and that it piles responsibilities on health care providers who are already stretched thin.

"The new mandates outlined in this bill will result in increased costs for all hospitals," said George Green, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, which represents 160 hospitals, nursing facilities and health care organizations. Facilities will have to add staff members, exacerbating the financial strain on public hospitals, Green added.

Advocates for the bill say many hospitals already provide good discharge information, but some are seriously lacking.

"It's inconsistent," said Barbara Kim Stanton, state director for AARP Hawaii. "What we have heard is that even in the same hospital, it is not always done."

A joint meeting of the Senate's health and human services and housing committees voted to defer action on the bill until Friday.

"I think the requirements are not onerous at all," said Sen. Chun Oakland, a Democrat who represents downtown and other parts of Honolulu. "Most of the hospitals tell us they do what the bill requires, so we're just trying to get consistency."

A task force made up of representatives from health care providers, government officials and consumer groups had voted against introducing legislation on the topic this year, said George Green, adding that he was puzzled about why that recommendation was ignored.

"It does seem a little bit irregular that ... when there isn't consensus, you come forward with a bill," Sen. Josh Green, D-West Hawaii, said in agreement.

Joshua Wisch of AARP said consumer advocates were outnumbered by hospital representatives. "The working-group composition was not exactly balanced," Wisch said.

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