Casner & Edwards

Client Alert: New Massachusetts Law provides Broad Approach to Treating Those Suffering From Alzheimer’s and Dementia

An Act Relative to Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias in the Commonwealth

On August 9, 2018, Governor Baker signed a new law aimed at establishing a comprehensive state plan to assist with the diagnosis, treatment and care of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in the Commonwealth. The Act also provides educational requirements for those professionals treating patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia as well as guidelines for discussing the diagnosis and treatment plan with the patient’s family.

As part the implementation of the state plan (found in Chapter 6A, Section 16AA of the Massachusetts General Laws), a new advisory council will be formed including the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Elder Affairs, caregivers for those suffering from Alzheimer’s, and Alzheimer’s researchers (among others). The advisory council is required to submit an annual report to the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) outlining information and recommendations on Alzheimer’s disease policy, state-funded efforts in Alzheimer’s disease research, clinical care, institutional, home-based and community-based programs, and any proposed updates to the state plan.

The Act also adds a new section to the General Laws - Chapter 112, Section 12G - requiring that upon an initial diagnosis with Alzheimer’s, a physician must report the diagnosis to a family member or to the patient’s legal representative and provide that family member or legal representative with information and resources related to the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. However, the physician must obtain the patient’s consent before discussing the diagnosis, unless the physician determines that the patient is legally incapacitated or unable to provide consent. In that case, the physician may report the diagnosis to the legal representative (such as the health care agent named under a patient’s health care proxy) consistent with Massachusetts and federal laws.

The Act also amends Chapter 19A, Section 16 of the General Laws, to require local and state agencies to provide training to caseworkers focused on recognizing the signs and symptoms of cognitive impairments, including Alzheimer’s disease. Under the new law, physicians, physician assistants, nurses and practical nurses who serve the adult population will now be required to complete a training course related to the treatment and care of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive impairments. Further, hospitals are now required to implement a plan for the recognition and management of patients with dementia and cognitive impairments.

Alzheimer’s disease affects approximately 120,000 Massachusetts residents and many more suffer from cognitive impairments and dementia. The passing of the Act recognizes the importance of dialogue and increased transparency related to the treatment of the illness, but with a balancing of the patient’s interests in the confidentiality of her private and confidential medical information.

The legislation also serves as a reminder that a Health Care Proxy, Durable Power of Attorney and HIPAA authorization are among the critically important documents that help to form a comprehensive estate plan and may become integral in facilitating the treatment and care of a family member suffering from a cognitive illness.

Please feel free to contact the members of the Trusts & Estates Group at Casner & Edwards with any questions concerning the new law and to discuss your estate planning needs.

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