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Hospital Discharge Process: What To Expect

Reviewed by: MySeniorCare Staff
Last Updated: 4/13/2010 5:24:20 PM

With hospital stays now shorter than ever due to Medicare restrictions and an increase in managed care, hospital discharge planning is more important than ever.

The discharge of an elderly person from the hospital is a process, not a single event. As the caregiver of an elderly person, you will want to know what to expect during the hospital discharge process well before your loved one is hospitalized.

What will be required of you, and what your loved one will need upon discharge, will vary greatly depending on the reason for hospitalization. If your loved one entered the hospital for a planned surgery such as a hip replacement, then you have had some time to prepare ahead of time. However, if the patient was admitted to the hospital due to illness or accident, then you may need to do some scrambling. This is when the help of the hospital's discharge planner and social worker will be invaluable.

Where Will Your Loved One Be Going?

Certainly, the first question that most caregivers will ask is whether the person being discharged can return home after their hospitalization. If they are able to return to their home, how much care will they need, and for how long? Ask about the availability of home health nurses or hospice nurses and workers, if applicable, and begin to make arrangements for their help as soon as possible.

You will need to know if the patient will need around-the-clock care for a period of time after their hospital discharge. Will you be providing that care? Do you have siblings, friends or relatives who can help by taking turns? You may need to hire a home caregiver, or take a leave of absence from work. If you still have children at home, would it be easier to care for your loved one in your own home? These are all questions that will need to be answered.

Sometimes after a surgery or recovery from a fall, a short stay in a rehabilitation facility will be the best option. Ask your discharge planner for the names of some nearby facilities. If you have more than one choice, you may want to visit each place yourself. This is certainly true if your elderly loved one is being discharged from the hospital to a nursing home. The closest place to your home is not always the best place for your loved one. Do your research before you choose any kind of extended care facility. Your friends and relatives may be able to help if they have had experience with a facility, or know of someone else who has.

Home Medical Management

If the patient will be discharged from the hospital to their home, you will need to know about any and all medications, dressing changes, blood sugar monitoring, and other things that you will be in charge of for a period of time. You may be able to learn to do a simple dressing change yourself, or you may wish to have a home health nurse come daily to attend to such jobs.

If you or a relative cannot provide the long-term care needed, the discharge planner will be able to put you in touch with agencies that employ home caregivers that you can hire. Be certain to meet any caregiver candidates beforehand to make certain that you feel that they will be a good match for your loved one. You may only need someone to come in for a few hours a day to provide help with bathing and meals, or your loved one may need overnight care for a while. These are some of the things that will need to be arranged prior to the hospital discharge.

Mobility & Other Practical Matters

You may need to rent or purchase a wheelchair prior to your loved one's discharge. A shower chair for ease of bathing, and a bedside commode may be practical pieces of equipment to have ready at home, too. Ask questions of your discharge planner, and get as much arranged as possible in advance. Determine if you will need to add safety bars to the bathtub and shower areas. Ask if a hospital bed would be helpful in the beginning, or for the duration of your time providing care.

If you will be the primary caregiver when your loved one is home from the hospital, other practical concerns will need to be addressed. Is there a respite worker -- someone who can come in for a few hours a week so that you can run errands and have some down time?

Most of us think of a hospital discharge as a happy event. But if you are to become the caregiver, your work may just be beginning. Be sure to use all of the resources available to you.

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