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The Care Crisis is Here - How Can We Respond?

Heidi Erdmann-Sullivan on September 14, 2017 10:30 AM

Most of us don’t like to think about aging or being ill – whether it’s our loved ones or ourselves.  But the reality is, that is our reality. And at some point in our lives, we will all face a care need - be it for a family member or a friend, or our own.        

That brings us to the larger reality: the impending care crisis in America.

Ninety percent of Americans want to age at home.  Meanwhile, AARP predicts that more than 117 million Americans will require care by 2020.  But there will only be a projected 45 million unpaid caregivers, and 5 million professional, paid caregivers available to provide that care.  In addition to this projected 60 million+ caregiver gap, 42 percent of these unpaid caregivers are working – trying to balance the demands of their job at work and their job at home. 

How can we respond to the care crisis?  More specifically, the employee caregiving crisis?  Here are ways to deepen understanding, build awareness at your organization, and become an active participant in creating solutions.

Watch the Compelling Documentary, Care
A recent documentary entitled Care, explores the care crisis through the lens of four caregivers and the individuals  they  care for.  Beautifully told stories of the very personal,  very difficult realities each of these individuals and their families face, it aired for the first time on television on PBS’s World Channel this September. If you didn’t catch it on TV, the full film is available online for a limited time, and continuing to tour throughout the country at local screening events.

The film raises important questions about the financial, emotional and physical costs of care – to individuals, but also our society.  It urges us to give greater dignity, respect and protections to both unpaid and paid caregivers. It compels us to have compassion for those living through care situations and challenges us to rebuild the entire system.  But what the film does best is help us to see and feel what caregiving really looks like for so many Americans.  It ultimately reminds us that the care crisis isn’t something of the future – it’s here now.

RELATED: 7 Issues Employees Face When Confronted with Senior Care

Raise awareness - and compassion - around caregiving at your organization
AARP estimates there are 40 million family caregivers currently caring for loved ones at home, and more than 42 percent of U.S. workers have provided care for a family member or friend in the last five years.  As National Family Caregivers Month approaches this November, take the opportunity to reduce stigma and make caregiving a part of the mainstream conversation at your organization. 

Raise awareness through formal and informal events, programs and initiatives. Consider hosting a drop-in thank you lunch or back massage event for your working caregivers.  Launch a caregiver support group at your company if you don’t have one already, or connect individuals with local and national support resources compiled by AARP, The National Alliance for Caregiving and The Family Caregiver Alliance.  Or, simply use November as a target month for sitting down with key stakeholders to review the benefits and policies you give your working caregivers – and ways you could do more.    

RELATED: 11 No-Cost Tips for Better Senior Care at Your Institution

Understand the business case behind better supporting caregivers at work
In a recent joint study from NEGBH and AARP, 87 percent of employers believe that better supporting caregiving will increase workplace productivity, and 97 percent believe caregiving contributes to absenteeism and presenteeism.  Yet, only 33 percent are offering EAP and Work-Life Assistance programs targeted specific to caregivers and 24 percent are offering access to in-home backup care.  Just 12 percent are subsidizing memberships to caregiving resources. Why? According to the same study, “79 percent believe that developing a business case with specific ROI is necessary to implement new caregiving benefits, programs and policies.” 

The research on ROI is emerging.  In addition to the study from NEGBH and AARP, several new studies and reports are here – proving the business case and helping to establish employer best practices. Here are two from AARP and ReACT: Supporting Working Caregivers: Case Studies of Promising Practices and Determining the Return on Investment: Supportive Policies for Employee Caregivers.   

Strengthen the benefits and policies you provide for your caregiving employees
Twenty-two percent of caregivers report their own health suffers while caregiving. Take a deep look at the data from your HR systems, insurance partners, employee surveys and direct feedback.  And evaluate how your health, wellness and work-life integration benefits are serving the emotional and physical wellbeing of your caregivers – or aren’t serving them well enough.  Take a closer look at your PTO policy, paid family leave and flexible working arrangements.  And investigate how backup care and senior care planning would help your employees better prepare and react to the care needs of their loved ones.   All combined, these benefits and policies make a significant impact on the lives of your employees – and your organization’s bottom line. 

Stay informed about what’s being done at state and federal levels 
Many organizations and lawmakers are working together to propose and pass new caregiver policy and legislation on both the state and federal level.  AARP, an enduring champion of these initiatives, provides comprehesnive information about proposed legislation and what can be done to help.  You can read regular news on their site about what’s happening with the Caregivers (RAISE) Act and the Credit for Caring Act on Capitol Hill.  And learn more about what’s being enacted at the state level, including the CARE (Caregiver, Advise, Record and Enable) Act and which bills are helping ensure caregivers have greater flexibility at work - including paid leave.  Plus, look to them to keep up to date on state-sponsored respite care programs.  

Care is something that impacts every one of us.  In the years ahead, employers will continue to play an increasingly critical role in helping solve the crisis.  Giving employees the support to better prepare, manage and cope now is already measurable progress.

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Heidi Erdmann-Sullivan

As Director, Sales and Marketing at, Heidi is responsible for developing innovative, results-driven programs for Care@Work – a consumer-centered portfolio of family care for employers and their diverse workforce. Passionate about helping HR professionals improve the lives of their employees, Heidi follows and writes about the top trends and research impacting both employees and employers in the workplace, including the future of work, consumerism and HR, building employer brands, pay equity and paid leave policy, and company culture. Prior to joining, Heidi led marketing teams at a variety of technology companies including Constant Contact. She lives north of Boston with her husband Brian and their “daughter” Lexi – a 10 lb. Shih-Tzu therapy dog.