July 3, 2017
Eldercare is a crisis waiting to happen. Just ask anyone in the workforce who suddenly has to care for an elderly parent or spouse – while also fulfilling responsibilities at the office.
Those thrust into the world of eldercare are not only demanding answers from doctors and specialists but also sorting through qualifying for Medicaid benefits for home care and nursing home care and figuring out how they will pay for it.
It’s a nightmare for family members, but also for employers who have to deal with increased absenteeism, missed deadlines, poor work quality and even turnover – all of which can affect a company’s bottom line. As Long Island’s population ages, the problem becomes more prominent.
“Eldercare is what childcare used to be like. It’s not an isolated problem – it affects society at large,” said Jennifer Cona, managing partner of Cona Elder Law, an elder law firm in Melville. “It’s a human-resources kind of problem. Companies are losing qualified people – top talent – to deal with these issues.”
Nationwide, more than one in six workers care for an elderly or disabled person, and indicated that providing this kind of support impacts their work life, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.
Some employees have to switch their work hours, while others wind up requiring unpaid leave in order to provide necessary care, experts say. In addition, these employees may need to make phone calls during business hours to speak with specialists and coordinate care. And they may need to leave work at a moment’s notice in the event of a crisis.
On Long Island, private and public companies have seen a 67-percent increase in eldercare issues affecting the working caregiver, according to a Cona Elder Law survey. The most common problems involved a loved one’s hospitalization, coordinating eldercare services and emergency eldercare-giving responsibilities.
Two-thirds of working family caregivers on Long Island have lost work time and wages along with reduced benefits from pensions and Social Security because of providing care for an aging loved one, according to the AARP study “2014 State of the 50+ on Long Island.”
Having tracked working caregiver issues, Cona noted a change in the last four years. “The big change is people were afraid to come forward – they didn’t want the employer to think they were not committed,” she said. Now there are fewer stigmas. “I think it had to do with human resources people also being impacted. It’s helped people catch on.”
In March, Cona Elder Law launched a program, “Tools and Advice for Working Caregivers,” that helps working caregivers understand how to better steer their way through the eldercare system, and therefore having a less of an impact in the workplace. The program offers employers on-site educational seminars on topics that include caregiver support, asset protection planning, crisis planning, Medicaid issues, estate planning and more. Members also have access to vetted agencies that offer emergency home-health aids, and a preferred provider list of assistant living centers, adult day care centers and others. In addition, the firm offers a discount for legal services.
The program comes at a time when senior care costs are on the rise, and the options vary. In New York, the average monthly cost for adult day health care, typically provided at a center, is $1,950, according to HowMuch.net, which crunched the data. At-home care with an aide is $4,385, while staying at an assisted living facility is $4,136 and at a nursing home is $11,330.
Armed with knowledge, employees can prepare in advance of a crisis, and when they face an emergency, will miss less work and stay loyal to the company.
In the workplace, eldercare “is a big mystery for a lot of people,” said Cheryl Pritzker-Wolff, the chief financial officer of CBS Coverage, an insurance advisory firm headquartered in Plainview. When employees are faced with eldercare issues, “they can’t help but bring to work” some of these challenges, she added. The company arranged for a Cona Elder Law seminar and afterward, “people came back and thanked me, saying, “I can’t believe what I didn’t know.”
“Eldercare seems to be the hot topic,” said Lisa Radesco, the human resources director at Fire Research, a company in Nesconset that manufactures safety equipment for emergency vehicles. “I do have a lot of employees affected and it does take them away from work.” The company recently offered a Cona Elder Law lunch-and-learn seminar, and two employees who were not able to attend because they were dealing with eldercare issues asked to get in touch with the firm in order to access resources, Radesco said.
Cona notes that the program does offer opportunity to generate business, but says the law firm’s primary goal was to fill a void as the region’s population gets older.
“Potentially, if they need elder law services, they’ll use us, but we’re always focused on education,” Cona said. “We like to innovate. This was our response to that.”