Editor's Note

Caring for Caregivers

A look at Hawaii's new caregiver program.

Caring for aging or ailing family members, especially those with chronic conditions, can be rough. Actually, that’s putting it far too mildly. Providing regular, hands-on care to someone whose life is undergoing major changes radically alters your life in the process.

I got a taste of this when my wife and I were in our early 30s. I’m the baby of the family, so the ages in my immediate family are greatly skewed. For instance, my father was born in 1918 and my mother was born in 1925, while I was born in 1968. As my parents entered their late 70s and early 80s, it fell to my wife and I to care for them, since my Baby Boomer siblings were very far-flung (one across the country and the other living internationally).

As my parents’ health encountered the types of issues that face 70- or 80-year-olds, caring for them placed increasing demands on our time. This became extremely difficult, because my wife and I both work, and we were starting our small family of three young children at the time. Somehow we managed to make a tough situation work.

Eventually, we got some professional caregiver help, and after my father predeceased my mom, she was able to move into an assisted living apartment, which was terrific for her. But our experience of having to provide care made for an indelible life lesson. Even for two relatively young, relatively healthy people, trying to balance career, parenting small children, and helping two aging parents with chores, meals, shopping, transportation, etc. was physically and mentally taxing to say the least.

Somehow we made things work, and it gave the kids a ton of time with their grandparents, since we were over there all the time, but every time I recollect that period in my life, I honestly can’t figure out how we pulled it off. Somehow, we were able to extract 25 hours out of a 24-hour day.

The Toll of Providing Care

Compared to a lot of family caregivers, we got off lucky. Our difficulty was localized to crazy time demands, sleep deprivation, and basically running ourselves ragged. Comparatively, many family caregivers have to make far more significant sacrifices. They might have to table their careers in ways that make it hard for them to restart later on; they might have to move their parents in with them; or sell their homes and move in with their parents.

Numbers from the organization Caring Across Generations shed some light on this: There are 43.5 million family caregivers in the United States, who provide $470 billion dollars’ worth of care to their family members each year. Between 60 and 75 percent of those caregivers are women, and an estimated third of women in the workplace provide some care to a relative or spouse at some point during their career.

Those caregivers make many workplace sacrifices, such as fewer work hours, missing out on promotions, unpaid leaves of absence, or involuntary part-time work, early retirement, and having to quit. As a result, women family caregivers each lose an average of $324,044 in wages and benefits.

Gotta Hand it to Hawaii

That’s why I was enthused to read about Hawaii’s latest efforts to help family caregivers. Last month, Gov. David Ige signed the Kupuna Caregiver Assistance Act. Named for the Hawaiian word for a grandparent or elder, the bill helps family caregivers in the Aloha State by providing them with a voucher of up to $70 per day to secure elder care support services, such as adult day care, nursing or transportation.

When families provide that kind of critical service, which only benefits their state’s or nation’s health infrastructure, they should get some help in return. This is especially true when you factor in that they are risking and often sacrificing their career and financial wellbeing in the process.

This is the sort of help that will ensure that aging Hawaiians will live longer lives in their homes — or the homes of their family caregivers — which can only be enhanced through home medical equipment and related products and services. That’s a combination that can only increase those kapuna’s independence and quality of life. I hope that providers in Hawaii are recognizing this opportunity to provide additional goods and services to those families.

Moreover, I hope providers and industry advocates on the mainland monitor how this arrangement plays out, as it could establish a model that other states can replicate. For now I’ll say ho`omaika`i — congratulations! — Hawaii, you’re taking a lead on a pertinent homecare challenge and addressing it in a way that emphasizes the needs of both caregiver and patient.

This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

David Kopf is the Editor of HME Business.

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