November is National Caregivers Month. I stumbled upon this article that shows how one town is helping Working Caregivers take care of themselves and find resources to help them in their caregiving journey.
PLATTSBURGH, NY — Bonnie Black was living here but working for an Albany-based company that last year before her grandmother died. “It was very hard,” she said. “I was traveling for meetings — that put a lot of pressure on (her husband) Roger. It was very hard for my family.”
Black also took on the role for her mother, years later.
She knows what it’s like to juggle a job and caregiving. And so when she and Mary Labonte present the workshop Celebrate Working Caregivers on Nov. 4 at St. Peter’s Church Emmaus Room in Plattsburgh, “I can say, ‘From my experience,’ and fill in the blank,” she said.
The free program will provide tips on what benefits are available to an employed person who also takes care of a loved one, whether as parent, sibling, child, grandchild, friend or neighbor.
DOMINO EFFECT: Recent AARP data shows that 92 percent of caregivers experience a major change in work patterns.
“Maybe they’re a little late for work because there’s been a crisis or have to leave early for a doctor’s appointment,” said Black, who is program director of Employee Assistance Services in Plattsburgh. “Their workplace policy may not allow use of sick time because the parent (or whomever) doesn’t live in (the employee’s) home.”
And so the person ends up using small increments of allowable paid time off for those brief but vital situations. And so stress builds.
“Thirty-seven percent of those working while caregiving went from full- to part-time,” Black reported another AARP finding.
“Look at the domino effect,” she said. “There’s less income and also less workplace benefits.”
Some people take early retirement to take care of a loved one, she added.
It’s the exception rather than the norm that those folks seek outside help. Sometimes, people just get overwhelmed; support groups might be useful, they know, but there just isn’t time. Or the idea of tracking down resources might seem too difficult.
“There’s a very independent spirit that sometimes prevents taking advantage of resources out there,” added Labonte, program coordinator for Behavioral Health Services North’s Caregiver Resource Center. “(Many people) are very reluctant to bring someone else in; they put everything on hold to take care of their parents” or other loved ones.
“We have more than 60 door prizes to give away,” coaxed Black, naming gift cards to eateries including Applebees and Butcher Block, hair salons and other establishments. A large gift basket with personal health-care products and other items aimed to de-stress was contributed by Eastern Adirondack Health Care Network.
That’s the grand prize, Black said.
TAX CREDIT: Caregivers need to know it’s OK to recognize their limitations, Labonte said, to reach out for services that can help.
When people try to shoulder the entire burden, they are apt to break down at some point, often with health issues of their own. The program will offer a lot of helpful information, Black said.
“There is a tax credit that some caregivers can receive,” she noted. “That’s something they should look into.”
Some might qualify for paid leave through the expanded version of the Family and Medical Leave Act. Sometimes, employers have provisions that might well serve an employee doing the work/caregiver dance.
“A lot of people don’t read the handbook,” Black said.
Then again, some employers don’t even think about how caregiving can affect their business — until a key employee begins to struggle with that challenge.
“Most of the time, it’s going to be that employee going to the employer … saying this is what is going on.”
Black tries to empower people who need to have that discussion. She works with employers, as well.
The goal, she said, “is how to retain this quality employees.”
She also, upon request, makes presentations at places of business among the 130 that are clients of Employee Assistance Services.
So far, she noted, that’s only been a handful a year.
That, however, may change as the demographics of the U.S. population does.
“For the first time in history,” Black said, “there are more parents than children. It’s just a fact.
“And as those of us who are parents age, we’ll have even less and less people to take care of us.”
Celebrate Working Caregivers is the brainchild of the Continuity of Care Committee. A few agencies have grown to more than 20 since it first met in September 1995 to find ways to support physical and mental health.
Celebrate Working Caregivers will conclude with a rundown of agencies and options that can improve the situation of caregivers and whomever is under their care, whether sibling, child, parent, grandparent or any loved one. Focus 2011, an Office for the Aging publication that spells out resources, will be handed out.
“We’re going to bring up all kinds of community resources,” Black said.
WHAT IS YOUR COMMUNITY DOING?
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