Assistance to Employee Caregivers Good for Everyone’s Bottom Line

Published in Woonsocket Call on June 11, 2017

Days ago, AARP and the Respect a Caregiver’s Time Coalition (ReACT) released a report detailing innovative practices and policies of 14 organizations to support their employees with caregiver responsibilities. With the graying of America, supporting caregiver employees should be considered “a potentially new weapon” to attract or retain talented employees, say the researchers, by flexible work arrangements and paid leave policies. And there will be a need for this support.

It is estimated that of the 40 million unpaid family caregivers in the U.S., 60 percent are employed. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and AARP Public Policy Institute, nearly 25 percent of all family caregivers are millennials, and 50 percent are under the age of 50. This means that the growing number of family caregivers in the workforce is an issue that all employers will face. The NAC/AARP research also revealed that 61 percent of working caregivers must make workplace accommodations including modifying hours, taking a leave of absence, choosing early retirement or turning down a promotion.

Report Cites Best Practices to Support Employee Caregivers

The 14 case studies in the new report, “Supporting Working Caregivers: Case Studies of Promising Practices,” include well-known organizations from both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, and both large and small employers. They represent a broad set of industries, including financial services, health care, higher education, home care, management consulting, media, and technology.

There is “no one size fit all” solution to meeting the needs of employee caregivers, say the researchers. But, even with the diversity of the 14 participating organizations “there is clear evidence of promising practices” identified through these interviews, they note.

Researchers gleaned best practices from 14 nonprofits and for profits (from very large employers with over 200,000 workers to ones with less than 200 workers), detailing in the report released on June 8, 2017, how these organizations assist their caregiver employees. These companies provide a broad array of information resources and referrals, flexible work arrangements, paid time off for caregiving, emergency backup care, and, in some cases, high-touch counseling and care management advice.

“Family caregivers juggle their loved one’s needs with their own personal and professional goals every day. AARP hopes this report will encourage more employers understand caregiving and support their employees’ success,” said Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer in a statement. AARP sponsored the 49-page report.

According to researchers, interviews with business and human resources executives from the profiled organizations indicated that time and flexibility are what matter most to employees when it comes to balancing work and caregiving. Close to half of the employers interviewed provide paid time off for caregiving as well as emergency backup care and flexible work arrangements.

All offer employee caregivers a combination of information resources, referral services and advice by phone. Most provide resources online, typically through an employee assistance program (EAP) or an intranet portal. More than half offer phone consultations or 24/7 expert hotlines. Several interviewees stressed the value of providing on-site, independent eldercare consultants, noting that employees appreciate both the convenience and the respect for their privacy.

“ReACT represents a cross-sector employer effort to raise awareness of and spur action to meet the challenges millions face every day while taking care of an older loved one,” said Drew Holzapfel, convener of ReACT, in a statement. “It’s exciting to see how leading organizations are showcasing the value of employee caregivers’ dual roles at home and in the office.”

Organizations Give Thumbs Up to Assisting Employee Caregivers

Interviewees at the participating organizations were not shy in explaining the importance of offering caregiver assistance to employees.

Michelle Stone, Fannie Mae’s Work-Life Benefits Senior Program Manager, says, “We have been asked, ‘How can you afford to do this?’ Our response is, ‘How can we afford not to?’ The program helps our company and our employees save time and money, and the return on investment is substantial.”

Michelle Martin, Vice President, Human Resources Specialty Services, CBS Corporation, states, “Our hope is to fill the gaps in support along the continuum of care so that employees not only have what they need to care, but also the peace of mind to do so without worrying about their job.”

“At Allianz Life, we like to say, ‘we’ve been keeping promises to our employees and customers since our founding.’ Nothing matters more than our employees and we work every day to provide them with benefits that allow for work-life balance and peace of mind,” says Suzanne Dowd Zeller, Chief Human Resources Officer.

Adds Audrey Adelson, manager of work-life, Emory University, “Our program is based on a continuum of care model, designed to support not only entrenched caregivers, but also those who anticipate becoming a caregiver and those whose caregiving responsibilities have ended and are beginning to move beyond caregiving.”

AARP Rhode Island Champions Caregiving Temporary Disability Insurance

Most employers recognize that some of their best workers are not at their best when they are caregivers in crisis for feeling the onset of burnout,” AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen noted. “One of the reasons is that most employers and their human resources managers respond to the needs of caregivers is because they are not far removed from caregiving if not caregivers themselves. They know that caregiving responsibilities sometimes must take precedence over work. And they understand that what is good for the caregiver is also good for their business.

“In Rhode Island, caregiving temporary disability insurance – legislation championed by AARP – gives caregivers paid leave to attend to caregiving tasks or as respite when a break from work benefits all concerned. Employers should assess their policies and give thought to the importance of supporting their caregiving employees’ success. This is true of businesses large and small and non-profits as well. These bosses can start by simply asking themselves what their expectations would be if they were an employee.”

Rhode Island CEOs might consider obtaining a copy of this report, passing the document to Human Resources for review and ultimate implement of eldercare policies. Stressed employee caregivers will appreciate any assistance they can get to help them in their caregiving responsibilities. But, this makes good business sense, too. Assisting employee caregivers will increase employee productivity, improving the company’s bottom line.

To read the full report, go to:
http://respectcaregivers.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/AARP-ReAct-MASTER-web.pdf

Rhode Island General Assembly Seeks to Assist State’s Caregivers

Published in Woonsocket Call on June 14, 2015

With the graying of America’s population, the profile of the typical family caregiver has changed, says a new report released by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. The findings trouble aging advocates who warn that as care givers age they require more long term care support and community based care services.

Taking a Look at Today’s Caregiver

The report, “Caregiving in the United States 2015,” tells us that the “typical” family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who takes care of a relative, caregivers on the whole are becoming as diverse as America’s population.

According to the 81 page report, today’s family caregiver also provides unpaid care for at least 21 hours a week, and has been care giving for an average of 5-1/2 years.  These individuals expect to continue providing care to their loved ones for another 5 years. Nearly half of these higher-hour caregivers report high emotional stress (46 percent), too.

Men, often stereotyped as failing to take on caregiving responsibilities, currently represent a whopping 40 percent of family caregivers, also providing an average of 23 hours a week being a caregiver to their loved ones, adds the report.

The study’s data indicates that today nearly a quarter of the nation’s caregivers are millennials between the ages of 18 and 34 and they are equally likely to be male or female. On the other end of the spectrum, 75 and older caregivers are typically the sole support for their loved one, providing care without paid help or assistance from relatives and friends.

Meanwhile, caregivers, with an average household income of $45,700, tell the researchers that they are not only emotionally strained, but financial strained as well. These higher-hour older caregivers report difficulty in finding affordable care giving services, such as delivered meals, transportation, or in-home health services, in their community, for themselves and their loved ones.

The report also notes that “Caregivers of a close relative—like a spouse or a parent—who are likely to provide care for 21 hours or more, indicate that being noted as a family caregiver in the medical records of the care recipient would be helpful in managing their caregiving responsibilities.”

Finally, the study’s findings indicate that caregivers who live more than an hour away from their care recipient also report higher levels of financial strain (21 percent), perhaps because 4 out of 10 long-distance caregivers report the use of paid help (41 percent).

Report Calls for Supporting Caregiver Needs

As previous AARP research has shown, we’re facing a caregiving cliff,” said Dr. Susan Reinhard, senior vice president and director, AARP Public Policy Institute; and chief strategist, Center to Champion Nursing in America. “By mid-century, there will be only three family caregivers available for each person requiring care. That means, to avoid putting them at higher risk as they age, we need to provide support for existing caregivers who are underserved by the current long-term services and support system.”

We’re especially concerned that not enough is being done to support family caregivers in the public or private sector as they age,” says Gail Gibson Hunt, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving. “There’s a double-edged sword when we fail to support caregivers, because we put both the caregiver and the care recipient at risk,” she warns.

Hunt observes, “Rhode Island is a unique state in that it has the highest percentage of persons over age 85. The data in this report speaks to some of the challenges of a graying population, particularly the needs of caregivers who are 75 or older.”

“We know from the data that the ‘typical’ caregiver over 75 is caring for a spouse or close relative, and spends about 34 hours a week providing care. This can be extremely challenging for an older person who may be managing their own mobility and health issues, as they help a loved one with basic needs like bathing or everyday tasks like grocery shopping,” said Hunt.

Hunt says, “Rhode Island has an opportunity to continue supporting older people and their caregivers, who are also growing older and need care.”

Lawmakers Posed to Pass Caregiver Law

           In June 4th, the Senate passed SB 481 A, the CARE (Caregiver Advise, Record  and Enable) Act, to provide caregivers with timely information to allow them to provide post-discharge care.  The House Chamber passed its measure, HB 6150 Sub A on June 10th.  Both chambers must now approve the legislation from the opposite chamber.  If passed, they go to the Governor for approval.  This legislation will be invaluable to the state’s 148,000 caregivers who provided 142 million hours of care for loved ones.

“We are delighted that – upon the CARE Act becoming law – Rhode Island will join seven other states that  have enacted CARE Act legislation, with bills in three other states awaiting their respective Governor’s signatures,” said AARP State Director Kathleen Connell.

“Together, AARP worked with a strong coalition of stakeholders, as well as the House and Senate sponsors, Representative Eileen Naughton, and Senator Gayle Goldin, and the members of the House’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee and the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee,“ notes Connell.

“The passage of the CARE Act dovetails with the release of “Caregiving in the United States 2015,” which  presents a portrait of unpaid family caregivers today. It specifically addresses vulnerable groups of caregivers who face complex, high burden care situations. They tend to be older caregivers, who had no other option but to take on caregiving duties.” adds Connell.

Connell says, “It is sobering to conclude that in Rhode Island, with its above-average older population, we risk seeing more and more of old sick people caring for older sicker people. Clearly, that’s not a good thing and it needs addressing sooner than later.”

“One thing we noticed as the CARE Act made its way through the General Assembly was that a number of lawmakers shared their own personal caregiving stories. Some issues are harder to personally identify with than others, but when it comes to caregiving, it’s good to know we have this kind of attention. The report adds data and statistics that should help frame solutions,” says Connell.

 

Director Charles Fogarty, who oversees the state’s Division of Elderly Affairs (DEA), sees the value of AARP’s report highlighting the “critical role” of caregivers taking care of their loved one.  “Family support is essential to allow seniors to stay in their own homes and live as independently as possible, he says, noting that federal funds allows DEA to administer respite and care giver support programs.

“As the baby boomer generation ages, DEA will continue to seek out resources that provide support to family members who care for their loved one,” says Fogarty.

The CARE Act can provide assistance to those tirelessly care for their aged or disabled loved ones.   Kudos for the Rhode Island General Assembly giving them the tools to do a better job.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

 

Tale of Two Caregivers

Published October 5, 2012, Pawtucket Times

           Being a caregiver to an older parent while raising children has now become the new rite of passage for aging baby boomers who, by the millions, are moving into their middle age years and beyond. Often called the sandwich generation for having care responsibilities at both ends of the age spectrum, these individuals become emotionally challenged, physically drained in their attempts to cope and juggle a multitude of tasks.

             According to National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, more than 65 million persons, 29% of the nation’s population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled, older family member or relative during any given year. The caregiver spends an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved ones.

 Taking on New Care giving Responsibilities

           Over seven years ago, Catherine Taylor, 51, the State’s Director of the Department of Elderly Affairs, and her husband, Rob, a practicing attorney, found themselves thrust into this new very demanding role with huge responsibilities. Like many others, the couple took on the demanding role of being caregivers of an elderly parent while juggling the intense domestic demands of taking care of four children, whose ages ranged from 3 years old to age 15.

           The Providence couple was now sharing the care of a very independent 83-year-old widow, who at that time resided in her home in Connecticut, one that she had designed. The older woman still continued to practice as an architect until her health began to rapidly steep decline.    

          In 1995, “We moved her back to Rhode Island six months before she died when she became too infirm to live independently in her home,” remembered Catherine.  

        Catherine wanted her mother-in-law to move in with her family, “but she was just too independent for that,” she said.  Her husband’s mother would ultimately choose to live out her final days in an apartment at a senior living facility on Providence’s Eastside, near the Taylor’s home. 

         As is the case with many caregivers who relocated their loved ones to live close by, packing, scheduling the move, and getting the Connecticut house ready for sale became the first chore of being a caregiver, notes Catherine.   

         According to Catherine, becoming a caregiver while working and raising a large family was incredibly hectic. “Many times we had to be in two or three places at one time,” each day.  Catherine adjusted her work schedule to help her mother-in-law with activities of daily living such as dressing, assisting in going to the bathroom, and feeding, take her to the emergency room or stay with her in the hospital, while wanting to be at home cooking her family dinner, and helping her children do their homework.

 Tips on Coping for Caregivers

            The couple juggled their roles as parents, caregivers and employees as best they could.  For instance, “our oldest child would be charged with watching his younger siblings”, Catherine says.  When visiting her mother-in-law to cook and assist her with eating, Catherine brought the youngest along to the senior living facility, and placed him in a portable playpen next to the kitchen table. Catherine, her husband and his sister, would divvy up cooking chores, each one take responsibility for making either breakfast, lunch or dinner.

           Supplemental care, provided by a home health aide, was especially needed when the aging baby boomer couple had to be at work.   

          While taxing for the entire family, care giving did have a positive impact on Catherine’s children.  “It really impressed on them how our family pulled together,” she said, noting “that it made them feel useful because they had specific jobs to perform to keep the family running.”    

           When asked if she got enough respite care for herself, Catherine quipped, “I never get enough!”  She added, “For us being part of a large nuclear family, also having a large extended family, we were able to trade off with each other.  But a lot of people don’t have that option,” she notes.  One of the hardest things about being a primary caregiver is how alone you can feel, Catherine said. “You’re living a different life from most other people.  You watch other families make snap decisions to go to the movies, and just hop in their car and go.  For you to do the same thing, the logistics tend to be like the invasion of Normandy.  You just have to go through so much organizing to have simple pleasures that other people don’t think twice about”.

          “Most family caregivers look like they are doing fine and think they are doing fine, but family, friends and neighbors, and sometimes community agencies, need to check in and give them a break so they care recharge their batteries.”

          Catherine suggests that caregivers maintain their relationships with friends and colleagues as hard as that is to do so they will look in on you, stop by for coffee, bring you dinner and help recharge you.  “This will allow you to keep doing your care giving job with love.”

 Double Duty as a Caregiver

          Sixty-four-year-old, Kathy Heren, Rhode Island’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman, a licensed practical nurse and caregiver, and her husband, John, 63, a chef, slipped into the care giving in the mid-1990s, watching out for two elder family members at the same time, a 72-year- old mother and her 78-year-old uncle.

          Both frail relatives (one had dementia and the other a heart condition) lived independently in their homes located in East Providence and on the Eastside. “Being Irish, they were both very stubborn in accepting assistance,” the aging advocate remembered. While professionally helping others cope with care giving and long-term care issues, Rhode Island’s Ombudsman had to carve out time to personally perform chores for her two frail family members. Chores included shopping, paying bills, and cleaning their houses.   Scheduling and transportation to doctor appointments and med management took additional time away from her very demanding job and family duties.

            When dealing with her Mother’s finances became just too difficult, Kathy, along with her sister, filed for guardianship.  “If you realize that there are some things you just can’t control, then seek outside services or assistance,” she recommended.  

           “Depending on personality of the person you are taking care of you may have to just step away from being a caregiver, if it impacts on your health,” she says.  “It may become the right time to turn to a nursing home or home care services, to take care of your frail family member.”

           “Make sure you turn to respite care if needed because it is always available”, Kathy suggests.  “You need to know when to seek out this assistance and go on a trip to recharge your batteries. When taking care of your loved one, do not forget your own health, family, or nutrition,” she says. .

 Seeking Respite Care Programs

             Rhode Island will receive $250,000 under the federal Lifespan Respite Care Act to support families caring for aging or disabled individuals with special needs, increasing access to short-term, or respite care. This relief offers family members temporary breaks from the daily routine and stress of providing care to loved ones with special needs.

             You can get information about respite care programs and resources available to care givers by calling by calling the Rhode Island Department of Human Services, Division of Elderly Affairs at (401) 462-3000, or you can go to www.dea.ri.gov. TTY users can call (401) 462-0740.

             The Rhode Island State Ombudsman, at the Alliance for Better Long-Term Care, monitors the quality of the Rhode Island’s nursing homes, assisted living facilities, home health agencies and hospice services, and address issues of elder abuse, guardianship, neglect and financial exploitation.  For more information, call  (401)785-3340.

             Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.

 

Caregivers Must Not Forget Their Own Needs

            Published June 8, 2012, Pawtucket Times

           It seems that every where I turn these days, friends, and business colleagues, are being thrust into care giving roles for older family members or spouses.  In today’s hectic world, aging baby boomers and seniors who are now taking on this late-life role can find this new task very demanding and stressful.

            According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, most aging baby boomers will become informal caregivers at some time during their lives. During any given year, there are more than 65 million Americans (29% of the nation’s population) who provide unpaid care for a chronically ill, disabled, or older family member or relative during any given year.  The caregiver spends an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved ones.

            Statistics paint a very detailed picture of the typical family caregiver.  She is a 49-year old, married female who is employed and cares for her 69-year old widowed mother who does not live with her.  Over 66 percent of the nation’s caregivers are women.  More than 37 percent have children or grandchildren 18-years or younger living with them.

The Importance of Taking Care of Yourself

            Connie Goldman, award winning radio producer and reporter whose books have given her readers insights, inspiration, and motivation for personal growth in their mid-life and beyond, sees continuing need for support and services for middle-aged caregivers. 

            Goldman, who authored The Gifts of Caregiving – Stories of Hardship, Hope and Healing, believes the secret of being a successful caregiver is to first take good care of yourself.  Although her book was first published over a decade ago the personal stories that family caregiver have shared continue to offer comfort, insights, and inspiration. Many will benefit from reading the compilation of 30 stories of caregivers who tell their  personal stories of taking care of an ill, disabled or aging loved one.  Goldman notes all of these remarkable people cope with adversity in ways that leave us wondering: “Could I measure up to the challenge?” Most importantly, each of their stories reveals how the hardships of caregiving can be turned into a journey of hope and self-discovery,” she says.

           In her timeless book, Goldman’s interviews include: Dana Reeve (wife of the late actor Christopher Reeve), former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Studs Terkel, and others whose lives were forever changed by their care giving experience. There are also personal experiences told by many whose names you won’t recognize, yet their stories offer personal insights that can nurture and nourish   caregivers of any age.

            “Taking on the commitment as a family caregiver opens the door to frustration, irritation, indecision, fear, guilt and stress,” says Goldman, so the caregiver must take care of themselves first. Goldman notes that a mantra she often suggest to post on your mirror, refrigerator, or anywhere else to remind yourself  that you must “Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.”  It is well known that caregivers often lose sleep, don’t eat properly, don’t take breaks, and don’t believe they matter as much as the person who they’re providing care for, she adds.  “Caregivers very often put themselves and their needs last on the list. To be the best caregiver you can be you must care for yourself”.

             According to Goldman, you can be a better, more efficient caregiver if you get enough sleep, eat regular meals, and make a plan to get relief for some period of each day. “I know caregivers are often reluctant to ask a friend to fill in at home while you go to have your hair set, or meet a friend for lunch, or go for a walk in the park. Yet an hour or two away can nourish a caregiver for the next 24 hours,” she says.

             Goldman suggests that caregivers can care for themselves by attending regular support groups, sharing with a friend three things that went right during a day (when everything seems going wrong), or taking a hot bath, reading a magazine, spending a bit of  time in your garden, taking a short nap, or eating a chocolate bar!   It’s often the little things that count in surviving each day and the challenges of being an aging baby boomer caregiver or taking on the caregiver role at any age.  

 Taping into Resources…

             It is difficult for many caregivers navigate the long-term care system to find the most appropriate programs and services to keep their loved ones at home.  According to the Rhode Island Department of Human Services, Division of Elderly Affairs, the National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA) might just provide that crucial information for caregivers.  The Kensington, Maryland-based clearing house (at www.nfcacares.org) offers information on a variety of topics including, stress and family caregiving, caregiver advocacy, care management techniques, support groups, communication with health care professionals, reaching out for help, and other issues.  For more information about the books written by Connie Goldman, go to www.congoldman.org your local bookstore or Amazon.com

            Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  His Commentaries appear in two daily newspapers, The Pawtucket Times and Woonsocket Call.