If attendance (140) at this symposium last week hosted by the Bucks County Woman’s Advocacy Coalition, Aging and Adult Services Montgomery County, Women’s Center of Montgomery County, A Woman’s Place, Bux-Mont Collaborative, and the Bucks County Area Agency on Aging is any indication, a lot of people care. More than 125 caregivers, legislators, employers, members of the philanthropic community, as well as representatives of governmental and non-profit organizations were in attendance.
Having been a caregiver for my parents, aunt and in-laws, I thought I had experienced everything and was well informed about issues faced by caregivers. However, this symposium opened my eyes about the ongoing challenges faced by caregivers and the need for changes to laws and the system.
The day began with a panel of real experts, people engaged daily in caring for loved ones. One woman talked about working three jobs to afford day care for her grandson. She had been a foster parent for her grandson while her son has been incarcerated, with the state paying for day care. After 18 months the state moved to terminate her son’s parental rights and asked her to adopt her grandson. If she didn’t, he would be placed for adoption. She was able to find a program that would not terminate her son’s parental rights and allow her to continue to care for her grandson. However, this came with the loss of day care support which now costs her $900 per month. Sounds like something needs to be fixed with this system.
The keynote speaker, Gail Gibson Hunt, President and CEO of the National Alliance of Caregivers provided valuable insights about the impacts of care giving. Nearly 44 million Americans are family caregivers for approximately $470 billion of unpaid service. What are the other costs?
- Increased health care costs for family caregiver’s own health
- People going into bankruptcy caring for someone with dementia
- 39% of caregivers left their job to have more time to provide care, resulting in a loss of wages, benefits, retirement savings, and social security assets
- $17.1 billion in lost productivity for employees with intense caregiving responsibilities
The employer panel discussed what employers can do to offer flexibility to caregivers and the shortage of trained professional care givers. In Bucks County there are 3500 openings to care for 20,000 people. Of course a big issue is low wages, the average being $9.62 per hour when the self sufficiency wage for an adult and one child in Bucks County is $24.07 per hour. It was heartening to hear how some employers are trying to find ways to meet the needs of employees which benefits them in reducing the costs of turnover.
The legislative panel talked about what government can do to help, such as sponsoring legislation to address the following.
- Paid medical and family leave
- Allowing termination of leases for people who become disabled and have to move to a care facility
- The Care Act to require including care givers in discharge planning (HB1329). This bill has passed the PA house and is in the Senate.
So, all in all it was a challenging day, and the major thing I learned is that there is lots of work to be done. If you would like to help you can join the BCWAC Caregiving Committee, by contacting Donna Byrne.
Barbara Price is a Bucks County Woman’s Advocacy Coalition partner.