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Hospitalization is frightening for anyone. This can be especially true for family caregivers who feel pressure to navigate the complexities of the healthcare system while in the throes of care. But hospitalization is bound to happen for most of us at some point, with the odds of hospitalization only growing with age.

In this article, we’ll walk you through navigating a hospital stay – whether it’s a planned stay or spontaneous, this article should help you feel prepared to manage it with grace and peace of mind. Let’s dive in.

Before You Get to the Hospital: What to Prepare

It’s important long before any stint in the hospital, if possible, to prepare a folder or binder of essential documents. These include things like:

  • Insurance documents
  • Medical care cards
  • Medical records
  • List of current medications and prescriptions
  • Photo ID

As well as these optional, but recommended documents:

  • Advance Health Care Directives (properly executed, preferably with an attorney) which includes things like a Power of Attorney, DNR if needed, etc.
  • Family history (where possible)

While in the Hospital: What to Do

Once you arrive at the hospital, it’s important to recognize your role. Depending on the relationship and procedures, you may not be welcome in the hospital room at all times. That’s why it’s important to know your rights and how to stand as an advocate for the loved one in your care.

Do: Be an Advocate

While hospitalized, you don’t need to worry as much about the typical care responsibilities that would normally be on your plate. As such, your most important role as a caregiver within the hospital is to stand as an advocate for your loved one. After all, you know them best, including their likes, dislikes, and care preferences, and can help communicate these needs to the hospital care team who are busy with a hospital worth of patients and may not always remember the details. 

Do: Ask Questions

Every hospital is different, so it’s not unusual to be unfamiliar with the policies and practices that will affect you and your loved one during their stay. Here are some example questions to consider:

  • When do the doctors usually visit?
  • What are the visiting policies?
  • What are the meal policies/choices and what times should they be expected?
  • When does the staff change shifts?
  • Who should you expect to visit the room?
  • How often do they change the linens?
  • Do they expect you to call when your loved one uses the restroom?

Answers to these questions can help you and your loved one acclimate to what’s expected quickly and have a more comfortable experience.

Do: Know Your Rights – The Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act

As a caregiver, you have a lot on your plate. The CARE Act (finalized in many states) aims to reduce some of the burden by giving you the right to demand certain things from the hospital before you leave. Under this law, for family caregivers, the hospital must:

  • Record your name (i.e., the name of the family caregiver) on your loved one’s medical record.
  • Inform you, as the family caregiver, when your loved one is to be discharged.
  • Provide you with education and instruction for the medical tasks you will need to perform for your loved one at home.


Additionally, you have the right to a translator if needed. While your loved one is hospitalized, be sure to request a professional interpreter if needed – including sign language interpreters – because you have the right to one. You also have the right to receive all written materials in your native language.

Study after study has made it clear that dangerous and preventable errors can happen without making accommodations for language, so make sure you exercise this right if needed. 

Be sure to exercise both of these rights (including the CARE Act and right to translation) while still in the hospital so you are better prepared for future visits, discharge, and adjusting to life back at home together.

After the Hospital: Discharge Planning

Once your loved one is ready to go home, it’s important to discuss your discharge plan with the hospital staff. A discharge plan is designed to prepare you and your loved one for what lies ahead once you return home (medication dosage, care, wound treatment, etc. as applicable). 

Note: It may not always be the doctor who creates the discharge plan, so prepare any questions in advance so you get the best information before you go home.

In general, here are the basics of a discharge plan:

  • Evaluation. Qualified personnel will evaluate your loved one.
  • Conversation. Your loved one and/or you should have an in-depth conversation with the professional care team.
  • Dosage. The professional care team should conduct a thorough review of prescriptions – comparing the medication and prescriptions they took before the hospital stay with any post-discharge medications to be certain there are no duplicates, omissions, harmful interactions, or side effects.
  • Movement. You should create a plan for arriving at home (if accommodations are needed for safety for example) or a transfer to another care facility together.
  • Support. Together, you should decide if there is a need for family caregiver training and/or any other type of support.
  • Referrals. From other care needs to support groups, the professional care team should create a referral plan.
  • Follow-up. Arrange any follow-up appointments, labs, or tests needed.
  • Contact information. They should give you contact information so you know who to contact if you need help. Make sure you have the name, phone number, and email address of somewhere you can get help 24/7.
  • Other/Miscellaneous. This discussion should cover a lot – from care tasks to equipment needs, and meal planning to medication administration. If you are unable or unwilling to do any of the necessary tasks, they should help you create a plan to ensure your loved one receives the care they need.

Closing Thoughts: Navigating a Hospital Stay

Navigating a hospital stay as a caregiver isn’t easy, but with a bit of careful planning, it can be handled with much more confidence than walking into it blind. Take time to get to know the care team in charge, take notes, and ask questions as often as you want/need.

As a family caregiver in California, we invite you to check out our library of free resources designed for you. The California Caregiver Resource Centers are here to provide assistance and guidance. Together, we can navigate the healthcare landscape and help you provide the best possible care for your loved one(s) over time.

Further Reading: How to Compassionately Bring Up Concerns About Someone’s Health

If you enjoyed this article, you may be interested in a prior blog post: How to Compassionately Bring Up Concerns About Someone’s Health. It’s important to have these conversations in a way that is loving and constructive, so in this article, we break down how to compassionately address your concerns with your loved one. Click here dive in.

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