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Aging workers value elder care benefits
If large companies with sizable numbers of employees operate in the city or region where you do business, you may be able to sell your services to them as an employee benefit.
Aging baby boomers, now in their late 30s to early 50s, not only have children to be concerned with, but also aging parents. As their parents enter old age, many middle-aged boomers find themselves sandwiched between the care needs of their parents and children. The organizations that employ those sandwiched workers may be a source of business for private duty providers.
"The same companies that don’t want their managers to lose work over sick children don’t want them to lose it over a sick, elderly parent," says Jeannette Mefford, RN, MPH, president of Minneapolis-based Mefford, Knutson & Associates, a health care consulting firm.
At least one study indicates that U.S. employees are losing a lot of work due to caring for their elderly parents, at a cost to their employers of at least $11 billion annually.1
The MetLife Study of Employer Costs for Working Caregivers is an economic analysis of information found in the Family Caregiving in the U.S.: Findings from a National Survey, conducted by the Bethesda, MD-based National Alliance for Caregiving. That 1997 survey shows 23%, or 22.4 million, of all U.S. households are involved in caregiving. About 64% of the caregivers are employed; most (nearly 52%) full-time. Overall, around 14 million full- and part-time employed caregivers are balancing work and caregiving.
The MetLife Study identified six ways that elder caregiving reduces employee productivity and adds costs:
1. replacement costs for employees who quit due to their caregiving responsibilities;
2. absenteeism costs;
3. costs due to partial absenteeism;
4. costs due to workday interruptions;
5. costs due to elder care crises;
6. costs associated with supervising employed caregivers.
The MetLife Study did not address the impact of employees who take less demanding jobs, turn down promotions, or permanently reduce their work hours because of their caregiving responsibilities. It also only attached economic value to activities of those workers with the sickest parents; excluding those who assist their loved ones with less than two activities of daily living (ADLs) and fewer than four instrumental ADLs. The lost productivity and added costs associated with those employed caregivers is probably another $18 billion, according to the study.
With so many affected workers and so much at stake economically, private duty providers may find fertile ground for their services among employers. Identifying the right decision maker and being able to present your service, however, may take a bit of investigative work and considerable persistence.
"Everyone can relate to child care. But elder care is different. They’ve never used it, and don’t know what it involves, so you have to go through an education process," says Mefford.
The company’s employee assistance program (EAP) manager may be a good starting place. Bill Mahon, president of St. Charles, MO-based Preferred Healthcare, suggests contacting the EAP manager and asking if the employee recognizes the need for elder care.
If you’re lucky, the company will not only understand the impact of elder care on the workplace, but also have some kind of assistance for employees. In such instances, you may be able to convince the EAP manager to subsidize your services or negotiate a special rate in consideration for having your company included on an employee resource list, Mahon says. If the manager’s eyes glaze over when you mention elder care, you may talk him into spearheading a companywide survey to determine elder care costs.
Private Duty Homecare conducted an informal survey of some of the companies included in Fortune magazine’s annual list of 100 Best Companies to Work For in America.2
Of the 10 firms we spoke with, all had instituted some measures to help employees deal with the care of their aging parents. In addition to the federally mandated unpaid leave for family emergencies, several companies offered liberal leave policies that allow workers emergency paid time off above their normal sick and vacation accruals. Others have more informal flex-time policies that allow employees to arrange elder-care related special work hours and time off directly with their supervisors. One company recently started offering long term care insurance, and allows employees to buy coverage for their spouses and parents.
The most common elder care-related benefit cited was EAP and work life programs. Every company had EAPs that would at least offer counseling and refer employees to outside information resources such as health care associations and area governmental agencies. Others go so far as to provide lists of caregiving resources in the employee’s local area, including assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and home care companies. None had special contracts or arrangements with any of the providers. Most of the work life programs also offer a variety of educational sessions, often conducted by outside experts, that range from financial planning to understanding the aging process.
Minneapolis-based Ceridian Performance Partners, an international work life service organization, provides work life services to the employees of about 30% of the firms on the Fortune 100 Best Companies list, according to Larry Bussey, director of communications. It offers consultation, referrals, and information on a wide range of issues. For example, an employee who recently learned that her mother had Alzheimer’s disease would first receive counseling to help her deal with her own reaction to her mother’s illness.
"Sometimes people are just overwhelmed. Elder care has a huge emotional impact. It can be very time consuming, as it is with children, but with a child it’s different. It’s exciting and a new life that you’re starting, whereas with a parent, the reason they need care is they’re in decline," Bussey explains.
After helping the employee work through her initial reaction, Ceridian would provide resources and referrals that would meet the needs of both the employee and her mother, including various health care providers.
"If a parent is having any difficulty at home, some children assume they have to put them in a nursing home because they don’t realize there’s a range of options available," Bussey says.
Ceridian directly contracts with day care services for the benefit of its clients’ employees, but has not yet done so with other care services, according to Bussey.
You may find a receptive ear with employers, but larger ones operating multistate are usually interested in coordinating all employee services through a work life provider like Ceridian and offering an equality of benefits for all employees in different areas, Bussey advises. For that reason, you may fare better with local companies that manage their own employee assistance efforts.
If your initial efforts don’t succeed, don’t give up. "Elder care is a big emerging issue, driven by demographics. We still do more on child care, but that will change in anticipation of the sandwich affect of middle-aged employees caring for both children and parents," says Bussey.
1. MetLife Mature Market Group. The MetLife Study of Employer Costs for Working Caregivers. Westport, CT: 1997.
2. Branch S. The 100 best companies to work for in America. Fortune 1999; 139:118-144.
Editor’s Note: Copies of Family Caregiving in the U.S.: Findings from a National Survey are available from the National Alliance for Caregiving at (301) 718-8444.
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• Larry Bussey, Director of Communications, Ceridian Performance Partners, 8100 34th Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55245. Telephone: (612) 853-4147.
• Bill Mahon, President, Preferred Healthcare, 15 Centre Pointe Drive, Suite 290, St. Charles, MO 63304. Telephone: (314) 939-3925.
• Jeannette Mefford, RN, MPH, President, Mefford, Knutson & Associates, 4940 Viking Drive, Suite 500, Minneapolis, MN 55453. Telephone: (612) 886-4390.