Let's lift up family caregivers. The work they do is more important than ever.
November 25, 2021
Through the past two years, we have been made acutely aware of the necessity and value of taking care of ourselves and our loved ones at home. Long-term care at home is by far the preferred choice for older adults and individuals with chronic medical and behavioral health conditions. While this was evident long before the pandemic, COVID-19 certainly accelerated the trend.
We know now that care at home is really only made possible when family members are an option to help provide care and when we are bolstered by innovative technologies that enable us to connect with our healthcare providers. The body of evidence on the positive outcomes associated with technology-enabled health care at home has grown exponentially over the past few years.
Long-term care systems and thousands of home-care professionals have adapted and responded to the growing demand. But the ultimate acknowledgment belongs to the more than 53 million Americans caring for older family members and individuals living with complex conditions and disabilities.
November is National Family Caregivers Month. This year, especially in light of all that has occurred due to COVID-19, it’s fitting that the collective “we” – family members, friends, health care professionals, the greater health care system – pause, recognize and support family caregivers who give so selflessly.
Family caregivers provide value that is not always easy to see. The care they provide accounts for as much as 80% of the total value of long-term services and supports for older adults.
Caregivers provide much-needed assistance with routine daily activities.
They help their loved ones out of bed, make sure prescriptions are filled and taken, and watch for signs and symptoms of disease progression. Engaged family caregivers contribute to important health and economic outcomes, including reduced costs, in many forms – fewer emergency department visits and unplanned hospitalizations, and the avoidance of costly nursing facility care.
Family members ensure their loved ones get the care they need when they need it and make sure that primary care providers and specialists are fully informed. When health care professionals do these same activities, it is called "care coordination." Caregivers provide intelligence from inside the home, which helps health care providers and professionals at health plans understand how they can support and intervene in a timely manner.
As health care systems look to deliver more care at home, and as home care agencies and other health care organizations struggle to recruit and retain sufficient workforce to meet demand, we must ensure that policies and programs exist to support family caregivers to keep caregiving at home. People ages 65 and older will make up more than 20% of our country’s population by 2030.
This demographic reality has prompted private and public investment in new models of care and new technologies, but these efforts alone will not bridge the caregiving workforce chasm we face for populations who need long-term care and want to receive it at home.
The good news is that there are evidence-based models operating today that are leading examples of what comprehensive support of family caregivers should look like and upon which we can build.
Programs that work
Individuals served are 55 and older and meet a nursing facility level of care but want to stay and receive care in their communities. PACE employs multidisciplinary care teams to construct comprehensive care plans on behalf of these older adults and their families.
Available to individuals enrolled in Medicaid, this innovative model allows individuals to choose family caregivers and for those caregivers to receive coaching and ongoing support so they can confidently deliver care at home.
Providing a professional coach to help increase a family caregiver’s understanding of complex medical and behavioral health conditions and available resources, and someone to help carry some of the caregiving stress and strain, has proved to reduce long-term care and health care costs.
We still have many challenges ahead to ensure that health care and long-term care systems are responsive to the desires of older adults and individuals with complex conditions and disabilities to receive care at home. Let’s use National Family Caregivers Month to ask ourselves what more we can do to support the silent army of family caregivers who are foundational to care in America.
Jeb Bush served as the 43rd governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007 and is chairman and managing partner of Finback Investment Partners, a private equity firm that contributes private capital to solve public sector challenges, including in health care and education. He also is a member of the board of directors for InnovAge.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jeb Bush: Let's ask what we can do to support caregivers