Technology can help people stay at home longer.
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HR: help caregiver employees learn about tools that could help them
MetLife study of working caregivers -- they're not well. A 2010 study sponsored by MetLife examined the effect on healthcare costs associated with working caregivers who had elder care responsibilities, comparing their responses to non-caregiver employees. The study was performed by University of Pittsburgh researchers who reviewed the health questionnaire responses of 17,097 employees in a single large firm, finding 12% with eldercare responsibilities. The summary: they derived from this analysis that US employers spend an extra $13.4 billion per year in health-related expense -- including missed work, leaving early, and health costs from chronic diseases like depression, diabetes, and hypertension. And interestingly, those caregiving employees who spent 14 hours or less per week on care identified little impact on their work or health, whereas 20 or more hours of caregiving resulted in "major work adjustments."
What do employers do to mitigate employee issues? Although the study did not identify the company by name, it did offer up types of programs offered by various large employers (from other HR-related studies). These Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) offer: access to elder care referral services like the federally funded Elder Care Locator, paid family leave, unpaid family leave, paid time off, telecommuting options, flexible schedules, and wellness programs that included stress management training and exercise. And 1% of large corporations, including GlaxoSmithKline offer the services of a geriatric care manager. Much-admired employers like Intel and Nike were cited as offering up a six-week training program also available under various insurance plans called "Powerful Tools for Caregivers" to help caregivers learn about services and deal with stress and depression.
What tech tools do caregivers actually use? The nature of the MetLife study was not comparitive over time and did not relate its quantitative analysis of caregiver attributes directly to the solutions identified as used by companies, nor did it confirm costs and job impact would be altered by access to these programs. So let's switch over to the NAC/AARP 2009 Caregiving in the US study, which clearly indicates that caregivers are even more likely now to need information, whether it is keeping the care recipient safe at home (38%) stress relief (31%), finding a home care agency (26%). But 67% rarely or ever used the Internet in the past year to search for information, only 12% reported using a telehealth device of any type to transmit information to the doctor, 7% were using a website or software to keep track of records. And only 10% referenced a safety-related device (wandering or leaving the stove on), and only 16% said they were using a PERS device.
What should/could employers recommend? So for those employees who struggle with caregiving needs,those issues are noticeable enough to impact employee performance and employer costs. Maybe employers could be more helpful and specific in helping employees reduce caregiving effort if they gave them a few other tools, like a booklet of websites (beyond Elder Care Locator), a guide to products on the market, whether it's online care-related tools for family caregivers to manage information, or data sheets that explain PERS devices, fall detectors, web camera-enabled home monitors or other alerting devices, wandering prevention devices? Maybe use of one or more of these devices could reduce the time spent per week on care.
HR executives should self-educate -- service providers and vendors should help. I heard no mention of advice about technology tools at the Care Summit during overviews of programs offered at Deloitte and Dell. No mention in the new MetLife report. So here is a theory -- I'm willing to bet that not one of the Employee Assistance Programs in any firms (large or small) offer any information about these tools that might mitigate some of the stress associated with caregiving. I am willing to bet that HR executives don't know that they should learn more. And I am willing to bet that service providers and vendors are not yet trying to teach them what they don't know.