Your loved one is about to come home from the hospital. Are you properly prepared for the homecoming? The answer to this question can be critically important, helping to determine whether your loved one’s return leads to a successful recuperation, or with a readmission to the hospital.
According to the U.S. Administration on Aging, one in five Medicare patients is readmitted to a hospital within 30 days of discharge, and a frequent contributing factor is inadequate access to proper resources at home. Advance planning and preparation can help ensure that your loved one has the resources he or she needs, and remove much of the stress and anxiety that you, yourself, might experience as a caregiver.
Bear in mind that it’s never too soon to start planning. If the hospitalization is sudden because of an emergency, start thinking about your loved one’s discharge as soon as his or her condition is stabilized. If it is a planned hospital stay, make the homecoming a major part of the overall planning process right from the start. Talk to your loved one’s doctors about how long the hospital stay is likely to be, and the special services or equipment he or she may be likely to require at home, such as a hospital bed, shower chair or part-time nurse. Also, discuss whether a rehabilitation facility may be advisable before a return home.
In the hospital, get acquainted as soon as possible with the social worker or discharge planner, both of whom can be helpful in keeping you apprised of a planned discharge date and preparing for it. Be certain not to let a discharge date take you by surprise. Medicare has strict rules about covering hospital stays and may not cover any days in which hospital-level care is not considered necessary for your loved one.
Here are specific factors to consider when preparing to bring your loved one home:
Managing the medication. This can be a surprisingly complex task, especially if medicines taken for the reason your loved one was hospitalized need to be included, along with medicines taken for unrelated conditions. To avoid unwanted drug interactions, always make sure the hospital doctors and your loved one’s private physician are each aware of all the medicines being taken. Make a master list of all drugs to be taken at home, the amount of each, and how often each should be taken. Also include any potentially serious side effects to watch for, and what to do if any show up. All of this should be clearly written down to avoid confusion and mistakes.
Accommodating special equipment. Some basic medical assist items, such as walkers, shower chairs and wheelchairs, can be acquired and stored with relative ease. Others, however, will have special space and power source requirements for which advance planning is necessary. Hospital beds and oxygen concentrators, for example, fall into this category. Safety bars in the bathroom, if required, may have to be installed on tiled walls. These are important factors to consider before the hospital discharge date.
Assessing one’s own caregiving skills. Depending, of course, on your loved one’s condition, he or she will require varying levels of care upon return from the hospital. A useful step in the planning process is to make an honest self-assessment of the depth of one’s own skills and capabilities as a caregiver to a recuperating patient. Ask your loved one’s doctor for a thorough description of the tasks that will be required, and measure them against your own physical and emotional state. Be as realistic, loving and compassionate as possible in order to accurately determine how much outside assistance you will need to ensure your loved one receives adequate care. If you expect to perform potentially complex nursing tasks for your loved one, insist on adequate training from the hospital staff. In addition, do not exclude relatives and friends who may be able to help with your planning.
When a loved one is in the hospital, it is not always easy to focus clearly on matters beyond the immediate situation. Advance thinking about the day he or she returns, however, can head off problems, make life easier for the both of you, and lead to a successful recovery.