N.H.’s Changing Workforce: Caring for the elderly a growing burden for workers and employers

The stress of providing unpaid care at home to a loved one often spills over into the workplace, and New Hampshire is no exception: nearly one-third of Granite State adults have provided unpaid care to an adult relative or friend in the past year, according to an AARP New Hampshire survey.For employers, the burden of stress on working caregivers can reflect in absenteeism and decreased productivity, which cost U.S. businesses an estimated $33.6 billion per year, according to the April 2010 survey.”Most of those caregivers are in the workforce,” said Dr. William Hall, a geriatrician, director of the Center for Healthy Aging and member of the AARP board of directors. “If you have an employee who isn’t very attentive on the job anymore, seems to be sleepy when they come in in the morning and seems to be distracted, odds are very high that they have some major caregiving responsibilities at home which they don’t know how to administer.”And the problem is only bound to grow in the coming years, as baby boomers reach retirement age and New Hampshire’s 85 and older population – the demographic most likely to require long-term caregiving services – is expected to double from 2007 to 2030.”With such an aging population, the percentage of family caregivers in the workplace will only rise over time,” read the AARP survey.The reason for such high numbers of unpaid caregivers lies in the high cost of long-term care, said Hall.In New Hampshire, institutional long-term care averages $80,000 to $90,000 per year, and people requiring long-term care dry up their financial resources in just two years on average.”No matter what level of savings people have, sooner or later they’re impoverished and they have to then go on Medicaid assistance, which doesn’t leave them much dignity in their lives,” said Hall.Long-term care reformA common misconception is that Medicare coverage includes long-term care options, said Hall. But aside from a 100-day period of rehabilitative care after an acute hospitalization, Medicare offers no long-term health care solutions.”Once you’ve used that exemption,” he said, “there is no Medicare payment for nursing homes.”A societal shift to home- and community-based care – which costs, on average, about 30 percent less than institutionalization, said Hall – is important for older people who want to stay in their communities, where they pay taxes, volunteer and own homes, said Jamie Bulen, communications director for AARP NH.The recent passing of the health-care reform bill includes an act that addresses the current system’s lack of long-term care options, and may help offset some of the costs for seniors who want to remain at home and for those taking care of them.The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, or CLASS Act, is a voluntary buy-in insurance program for employees that will help cover the cost of long-term care for as long as necessary should it ever be required.Once vested after five years, eligible enrollees are given a daily stipend that they can spend at their discretion, allowing people control over their own care, said Hall.The stipend can also be paid to family members – who make up about 80 percent of caregivers – to help ease the caregiving workload.”This is a voluntary plan. This isn’t just for old people,” said Hall. “We’re hoping that employers may see the value in encouraging this type of savings for their employees.”In addition to encouraging employees to enroll in CLASS, AARP recommends several low-cost solutions for employers including flexible work schedules, telecommuting or shared work arrangements, an employee sick leave donation program and unpaid elder care leave.”The real value here is that the quality of life is totally changed,” said Hall. “From my perspective, anything in the accountable care act that allows us to provide better long-term care in the community than in a nursing home is a giant step forward, and is very exciting to me as a geriatrician.”N.H.’s Changeing Workforce series is a collaboration between NHBR and AARP New Hampshire.