Friday, 29 October 2010

Empowering the Employed Caregiver: A Shift in Focus for Elder Care

by WFC Resources

Jobs Vacancy, Employment, Employment Jobs


Leading employers have begun shifting the focus of their work/life initiatives that support employees caring for aging relatives, offering employees access to empowering experiences like on-line skill-building courses and telephonic support groups. This new approach complements and goes beyond the traditional elder care information and consultation model. This article describes two such efforts:

  • “Powerful Tools for Caregiving,” an initiative of the American Business Collaboration for Quality Dependent Care (ABC) and Mather Lifeways Institute on Aging and
  • the AT&T Telephone Caregiver Support Groups.

In the late 1980’s, pioneering companies like IBM, Johnson and Johnson, and others began offering elder care consultation and referral (C&R). Modeled after childcare resource and referral programs, these initiatives gathered vast amounts of information about elder care programs and services and made the information available to employees via trained counselors. The idea was to both cut the time the employee spent looking for information and to improve the quality of decisions that employees made about elder care situations.

Over the past 15 years, the information-based model has evolved to include user-friendly databases that include every conceivable topic related to elder care. Today’s corporate elder care programs deliver instant access to such information via the Internet. Some have added telephonic and on-line information sessions on elder care topics and even company-paid geriatric care management services that arrange for an in-home assessment and development of a care plan for the older relative.

Beyond Information: “Powerful Tools”

Recent research has documented the financial cost of unrelieved caregiver stress in terms of negative health outcomes and increased medical costs. The key to avoiding such costs – and keeping employees with elder care responsibilities healthier – is to intervene earlier. This means not only providing information about services, but expanding the employee’s coping skills, thus empowering the employee to take control of this vitally important aspect of life.

The Mather Lifeways Institute on Aging (Mather) developed “Powerful Tools for Caregiving” to help family caregivers of elders cope. First offered in community settings, “Powerful Tools” began as a six-session series of interactive workshops, with an accompanying 300-page Caregiver Helpbook.

The program’s design included an evaluation component from day one, enabling Mather to document the program’s impact. Statistically significant findings from the original community groups show improvements in self-confidence, self-care activities (relaxation and physical exercise) and increased use of support services, like adult day care, chore services, care management and support groups.

Judy Presser of WFD Consulting is coordinating implementation of the “Powerful Tools” pilot project at ABC champion companies ExxonMobil, IBM, and Texas Instruments. She says that the fact that Mather had the evaluation data to show program results provided the impetus needed to fund an adaptation of the approach to the workplace setting. “The stress of caregiving and the related illnesses and use of medical care and prescription drugs was a concern,” says Presser. “We wanted something that could be replicated, not tied to geography. And it was an evaluated product where you could say ‘This works.’ “

The ABC pilot project is underway. It offers a self-paced, on-line learning module, combined with a weekly telephone call-in time and on-line chat groups. About 200 employees from the three firms have taken the six-week course so far. The ABC pilot program will also measure job performance.

Do the ABC companies have an ROI target in mind? “We will be looking for some health and wellness outcomes, says Presser. “You could translate this into an ROI. We went into this hoping that it will help employees manage their caregiving roles better. If this is achieved, then there will be an ROI, even if we don’t measure it. If it’s successful, you’ll know there is an ROI.”

Dan Kuhn, Mather’s education director, says “The experiment is to find out if caregivers using the web-based model can derive some or all of the benefits that caregivers have derived in the live experience at our sites in Chicago area. We’re grateful for the opportunity to test this out and we hope it’ll be effective and become available to other companies and individuals who are interested in taking care of themselves via this course.”

AT&T’s Telephone Support Groups

AT&T is taking a telephonic approach to employee caregiver empowerment. The company began offering its employees and their spouses access to telephonic elder care support groups in March 2003. Today, seven support groups meet on a weekly basis.

The support groups are limited to a maximum of seven participants each, and they meet at a variety of times of the day and days of the week, drawing callers from all over the U.S., according to Aimee Barr, an elder care counselor who facilitates some of the groups. Barr is an employee of Atlantic Health System, the contractor who operates the service with funding from a grant from the AT&T Family Care Development Fund.

How it works

  1. Employees learn about the availability of elder care support groups in many ways, including word-of-mouth, AT&T’s internal website, AT&T publications, and through the efforts of Bernadette Fusaro, Director of the Family Care Development Fund, who visits work sites and informs managers and employees about this and other programs supported by the Fund.
  2. When an employee calls or sends an email expressing interest, Barr or another elder care counselor conducts a brief telephone interview to determine if the telephone support group is an appropriate option for the caller.
  3. If appropriate, the employee or spouse is informed of the dates and times of the support groups, selects one, and is given a passcode to join the conversation, as well as a book entitled “Caring for You, Caring for Me,” developed by the Rosalynn Carter Institute.
  4. After participating in all or some of the ten weekly sessions, the employee receives a follow-up call from an elder care counselor to obtain feedback on the experience and to assure that the employee or spouse is directed to follow-up elder care resources, if needed.

After participating in all or some of the ten weekly sessions, the employee receives a follow-up call from an elder care counselor to obtain feedback on the experience and to assure that the employee or spouse is directed to follow-up elder care resources, if needed.

  • A stronger sense of the importance of their dual roles as employee and caregiver
  • Fresh ideas from others who have “been there, done that”
  • More insight into what their older relatives are going through
  • Better understanding of the resources available, both from AT&T and from public agencies like Medicaid and Medicare, and
  • New ways to find out about long term care options in the community

“We have two goals in operating this program,” says Barr, “ First: Don’t compromise confidentiality. Second: Don’t compromise convenience. We have people who are sometimes working 12-16 hours per day. The telephone access allows them to do this at their office or at home, whatever’s most convenient. We bring the service to them.”

Although no one is asked to reveal his or her name or job title in the course of group discussions, Barr says she has gleaned enough information from the conversations to know that the groups have drawn employees from every level of the AT&T.

The groups are diverse in terms of the elder care situations that participants face, as well, according to Barr. “Some are caring for persons with Alzheimer’s disease, some with Parkinson's or other ailments. The diversity allows people to gain perspective and allows those who are new to caregiving to connect with those who have experience. They are great at sharing resources that have been helpful to others, like suggestions on who to find a good geriatrician or elder law attorney.”

Barr says the call-in approach appears to be a good cultural fit for AT&T: “Because we work with people who are very good communicators on the phone and people who are technologically savvy, they are used to dealing with things on a technological level. Some are in virtual office situations that allow them to work from home, relying on communication via telephone and their personal computer.”

The program includes an evaluation component, measuring each participant’s degree of “perceived caregiving burden” before and after participating in a support group. “Coming into the groups, participants are all over the place (in terms of perceived caregiving burden),” says Barr. At the end of the sessions, the results have been positive. “The employees have written in very positive comments on the evaluation forms,” she says.


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