In this season of showing gratitude for the good deeds of others, it’s hard to think of a more deserving group than family caregivers. There are approximately 336,000 family caregivers in Utah who provide a whopping $4.1 billion worth of services to the state. Caregivers often say they wouldn’t have it any other way, but many work full time, still have children at home and use a considerable amount of their financial resources to keep their loved ones at home.
In Utah, just over half of caregivers on average are working outside the home on top of all their caregiving responsibilities. In addition to time spent at the office or job site, family caregivers spend, on average, 24 hours a week on myriad tasks to help their parents, spouses, children with disabilities and other loved ones live independently. They manage medications, prepare and serve meals, help their loved ones to bathe and dress, arrange transportation (or do the driving themselves), handle financial and legal matters and much, much more. About 65 percent of family caregivers in the state assist with medical or nursing tasks like injections and tube feedings.
As AARP Vice President Nancy LeaMond wrote in her last caregiving blog, some have to readjust their work schedules, often working fewer hours than they otherwise would, using paid time off for caregiving duties and taking unpaid time off when needed. Others work more hours or take an additional job to cover the bills. Many put their health at risk for the sake of their loved one, and many say they feel isolated at work, unable to be honest about the responsibilities they carry at home for fear of judgment or reprisal.
But the good news is there are many relatively simple things employers can do to support employees who are also family caregivers. They can hold “lunch and learn” sessions for caregivers to share experiences and distribute caregiving resources. Internal support groups can help relieve stress, perhaps with an outside speaker from an area agency on aging who can share tools to help manage caregiving responsibilities. Other practices to consider are rethinking sick leave and flex-time policies to take caregiving responsibilities into account or offering backup care and respite care services as employee benefits; family leave for caregivers is a benefit that AARP Utah plans to advocate for in the 2018 Utah legislative session.
These policies are beneficial for both the caregiver in the workforce and the employer. AARP’s research shows that having caregiver-friendly workplace policies is good for business. Eighty-seven percent of respondents in our caregiving and workplace survey say that supporting family caregivers in the workforce can increase productivity, and 75 percent say that having a caregiving-friendly workplace would help attract and retain talent. In addition, policies that help family caregivers take care of themselves – physically and mentally – can reduce employers’ health care costs in the long run.
Utah is growing older, and with more older Americans staying in their homes, the state’s 336,000 family caregivers are the bedrock of our long-term care system. We need to make sure they have the resources and support they need to care for their loved ones, especially when they are also working hard to support themselves and their families. It is time for these unsung heroes to receive the support they so desperately deserve.
Alan Ormsby is the state director of AARP Utah.