Family caregivers wear many hats, advocating on behalf of their children, partners and parents while navigating a complex health care system with little or no training. With the number of caregivers expected to grow as the population ages, the Portland Business Journal presented the first-ever Family Caregiver Summit to explore the impact on the workplace, both for employers and their employees.
Caring for a family member with health issues can carry emotional, social and financial burdens. According to Jerry Cohen, State Director of the Oregon AARP, one of the panelists at the Summit, a survey of Oregon employees aged 45+ indicated that 20 percent were currently acting as caregivers, 45 percent had just completed duties as a caregiver and the rest are anticipating they will need to be a family caregiver in the future. Two-thirds said caregiving was emotionally stressful, requiring them to take time off work, and over half of family caregivers said it impacted their career.
Peggy Maguire, Senior Vice President at Cambia, shared one idea of how employers can support employees who are caregivers, citing the formation of Cambia’s latest Employee Resource Group (ERG) focused on caregiving and serious illness. “It’s doubled in size since it began a year ago, and it’s a way for employees to get together, have an outlet to discuss these issues at work and experience some stress relief,” said Peggy. She also touted how Cambia has made advance care planning a wellness activity, encouraging employees “to normalize the conversation instead of waiting until there is a crisis.”
Family Caregiver Summit-Serious illness isn't just a clinical issue but a human issue that affects the family.~Peggy Maguire Sr. VP @Cambia— Well Beyond This (@WellBeyondThis) March 16, 2017
Another way employers can address employee caregiving demands, said AARP’s Jerry, is to approach it much like parenting: through open dialogue, flexibility, telework options and paid leave. The panelists suggested that another way to support caregivers is to allow intermittent FMLA, where people can take a few hours off or part of a day to, for example, take an elderly parent to a doctor’s appointment.
Despite the stress that comes with caring for a family member, Karen Hooker, Professor and Head, School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences at Oregon State University said OSU research has shown that the biggest indication of institutionalization of aging adults is how well the caregiver is doing. “The average middle aged person has more parents than children while at the same time people are living longer and are more healthy as they age,” she said. She added that when people think about caregiving not as a burden they feel more positive about what they are doing.
Caregiving is undeniably stressful, but it's also the gateway to a closer relationship with that person. Dr Karen Hooker #PBJCaregivers— Lee Spears (@leespea) March 16, 2017
Hooker said research shows people can also feel more confidence and better self-esteem and develop a closer relationship to family and the family member being cared for.
Cambia was a presenting sponsor of the inaugural event. Learn more about the Family Caregiver Summit, increasing support for family caregivers or what the health care system can do to support people living with serious illness and their families.