All of us must care about unpaid family caregivers. Caregivers represent an invisible workforce of more than 300,000 Idahoans who make it possible for aging parents, or other family members with physical or emotional disabilities or chronic illnesses to enjoy life in their own homes. Family caregivers not only serve as a lifeline for individuals who need assistance, they save Idaho taxpayers — you and me — money and add value to our community.
In 2014, Idaho spent $271,522,099, 48 percent of its Medicaid budget, on care in nursing facilities, intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, and inpatient psychiatric hospitals. Family caregivers are instrumental in delaying the need for placement in these expensive, institutional settings. Providing caregivers with supports that extend their capacity to provide care makes fiscal sense.
To minimize that expense, public and private health care plans and long-term care programs should include family caregivers, providing supports and allowing them, upon consent of the person, to be part of the care planning process. TennCare in Tennessee is an example of how involving caregivers can help ensure better quality of care.
Family caregiving responsibilities impact employers.
Businesses in the U.S. lose up to $33 billion annually in lost productivity due to the absenteeism of caregivers. In Idaho, nearly 70 percent of family caregivers are employed and, based on national findings, are at risk of losing over $660,000 in wage wealth because of work sacrifices. Helping caregivers stay employed reduces the chance of them losing health care benefits for themselves and other family members, and having to rely on other social services.
Demographic shifts also highlight the importance of caring about caregivers. Ten years ago, the ratio of working-age adults to older adults was 6 to1. By 2020, this ratio will be 3 to 1. There will be fewer and fewer caregivers for a rapidly increasing number of people needing care.
So what’s involved in “caring” for a family caregiver? The Idaho Family Caregiver Action Plan, released by the Idaho Caregiver Alliance this month, offers an evidence-based set of recommendations to put Idaho on a course that is economically viable for caregivers, employers and service systems. Recommendations include:
▪ Giving caregivers “respite care” or time away from caregiving to prevent or delay burnout.
▪ Investing in training and information for caregivers, who are increasingly expected to manage complex medical and/or psychological conditions.
▪ Increasing public awareness about unpaid caregivers, and recognizing employers who accommodate the needs of family caregivers.
▪ Working to embed the voice of caregivers in policy decisions and systems.
Working together we can provide a network of support for caregivers — one that minimizes the impact of caregiving on the economic and social well-being of families, businesses, and communities across Idaho. The Idaho Caregiver Alliance asks you to reach out to caregivers, talk to local and state policymakers about the importance of supports for caregivers, and use the Idaho Family Caregiver Action Plan to inform your conversations and actions. The plan is available at: https://hs.boisestate.edu/csa/files/2016/09/Idaho-Family-Caregiver-Action-Plan-9-30-2016.pdf
Sarah Toevs is the director of the Center for Study of Aging at Boise State University.