The crafting of Rhode Island’s first State Plan on Caregiving

Published on February 28, 2022 in Rhode Island News Today

Rhode Island has the distinction of having one of the highest percentages of adults aged 85 and over in the country. In 2017, out of a population of 1,060,00 there are more than 136,000 caregivers providing 114 million hours of care, says AARP Rhode Island.  More Rhode Islanders will be thrust into caregiving roles in the coming years.

In response to the continued aging of Rhode Island’s population, the Rhode Island Office of Healthy Aging (OHA) and Family Caregiver Alliance of Rhode Island officially released Rhode Island’s first State Plan on Caregiving.  The state’s new Plan for Caregivers serves as the framework for the crafting and implementation of new policies, as well as the expansion of various existing programs and partnerships to assist caregivers. The Plan serves to strengthen and advance the shared mission of OHA and the Family Caregiver Alliance of Rhode Island at the United Way (FCARI)  to promote choice, independence, empowerment, and the overall well-being of older adults, individuals with disabilities, and their caregivers.  FCARI is supported with funds from OHA.

As an advocate for caregivers throughout the state, The FCARI serves as the administrator of the 29-page Plan which extends through Sept. 2023. 

A Call for Supporting Rhode Island’s Caregivers

“The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated many of the challenges faced by our older adults and their caregivers, particularly social isolation,” said Interim Director Michelle Szylin announcing the release of this report on Sept 24, 2021. “Caregivers have a tough job and often receive little support. Through the development of this State Plan, we’re showing our commitment to strengthening resources available for our caregivers and better supporting the important work they do across our state,” she says.

Adds Maryam Attarpour, Program Manager, Family Caregiver Alliance of Rhode Island at the UWRI, “Caregiving has been and will always be a major part of the fabric of our society.” Attarpour says that the new State plan puts the needs of family caregivers first. “Our goal is to create a state that is equitable, inclusive, and supportive of our family caregivers, and the loved-ones they care for,” she says.

According to the statement, the State Plan on Caregiving also builds on the state’s existing efforts to meet the needs of Rhode Island caregivers of any age.  It provides an overview of the existing support network available for family caregivers to access as well as addresses the work that remains to ensure equitable access to resources and advocacy. 

One of the key areas of support that the plan focuses on is developing a comprehensive, robust website and social media presence for FCARI that will serve as a hub of information for resources and information for caregivers. It will also ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion for Rhode Island Caregivers and those for whom they care, too.

The State Plan will also ensure that the caregivers of Rhode Island seeking long term services and supports are identified and provided with information assistance and advance  opportunities for digital access (iPads, notebooks, computers and phones) to better serve and support Rhode Island Caregivers.

Over the years, the Rhode Island General Assembly has worked closely with aging advocates to enhance supports and resources for the state’s caregivers.  The State Plan calls on lawmakers to review existing laws to determine if they need to be refined or better funded.  It also suggests that legislation that has been submitted and not passed as well as laws and policies from other states be reviewed for “relevancy for supporting Rhode Island family caregivers.

Putting a Face on Family Caregivers

On Feb. 15th, Maureen Maigret, Chair of the state’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council’s Aging in Community Subcommittee, told members of the Rhode Island House Oversight Subcommittee on Aging & Senior Services, the importance of hammering out sound policy to support the state’s growing number of caregivers.

Maigret painted a picture of the typical care recipient, citing the 2020 Report, Caregiving in the U.S., to the attending House lawmakers. “Eighty nine percent of the care recipients are a relative, with 50% being either a parent or parent-in-law, spouse/partner (12%), grandparent/grandparent-in-law (8%), sibling/sibling-in-law (7%), adult child (6%) or nonrelative (10%), she said, noting that the average care recipient’s age is 68.9.

While 61% of the caregivers are women, 39% are men, adds Maigret, noting that 61% are white, 14% African American and 17% Hispanic.  The age of most caregivers falls between ages 60-65, says Maigret, noting that younger adults also find themselves having to provide caregiving chores.  Twenty-four percent of persons ages 18-34 and 23% of person’s ages 35-49.

It’s not easy to be a caregiver, says Maigret. She warned that caregivers should be considered “the hidden patient” because they are at risk for becoming depressed, extremely fatigued, stressed, feeling overwhelmed, being socially isolated, losing income and having physical health problems.

Maigret’s presentation was followed by a panel led by Acting OHA Director, Michelle Szylin, and her staff who provided information on programs OHA offers to assist caregivers including subsidized respite, home care and adult day services and special pilots to support those caring persons with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Although our legislature and Governor have been supportive of funding programs to support caregivers, the growth of our older population means more persons will need to become caregivers,” said Maigret. “We need better state programs and services to provide physical, emotional and financial support, and enhanced access to information about available resources,” she said.

Maigret adds: “There is also an urgent need to address the direct care worker crisis by providing the workers with fair and competitive wages.  Many caregivers need to supplement the services they provide with paid caregivers if they are in the workforce, or need to take care of other family needs. Yet due to the low wages paid for personal care workers, it is not always possible to find such help.”

For a copy of the State Plan on Caregiving go to https://fcari.org/state-plan-on-caregiving/

Study: One in Five Americans Are Unpaid Family Caregivers

Published in the Woonsocket Call on May 17, 2020

As the nation sees a growing number of aging baby boomers, workforce shortages in health care and long-term care settings, increased state funding for community-based services, and a growing number of seniors requiring assistance in their daily activities, caregivers are needed more than ever. According to a recently released report from National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and AARP, an increasing number of unpaid family caregivers are stepping up to the plate to care for their older family members or friends. The caregiver report’s findings indicate that the number of family caregivers in the United States increased by 9.5 million from 2015 (43.5 million) to 2020 (53 million) and now encompasses more than one in five Americans (19 percent).

First conducted in 1997, with follow up surveys in 2004, 2009 and 2015, the Caregiving in the U.S. studies are one of the most comprehensive resources describing the American caregiver. Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 was conducted by Greenwald &a Associates using a nationally representative, probability-based online panel. More than 1,700 caregivers who were age 18 or older participated in the survey in 2019.

Demand for Caregiving Rising as Nation’s Population Gets Older

The 107-page Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 report also reveals that family caregivers are in worse health compared to five years ago. As the demand for caregiving rises with the graying of the nation’s population, the report calls for more be done to support this vital work.

“As we face a global pandemic, we’re relying on friends and family to care for the older adults and people living with disabilities in our lives,” notes C. Grace Whiting, JD, President and CEO of NAC, in a May 14 statement announcing the release of this report. “Caregivers are essential to the nation’s public health, and the magnitude of millions of Americans providing unpaid care means that supporting caregivers can no longer be ignored, she says, noting that report’s findings reveals that growing need.

According to Whiting, family caregivers care for more people than five years ago and they take on more care responsibilities as roughly one in four care for two or more people. “Many individuals are caring for a longer time, with nearly a third (29 percent) of caregivers nationwide reporting they have been caregiving for five years or more—up from 24 percent in the last study,” states Whiting.

Who are today’s caregivers?

This new caregiver study shows that 39 percent are men and 61 percent are women. The average age is 49.4 years. The profile of the family caregiver is also changing, too. While caregiving spans across all generations, Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 found more young people providing care, including 6 percent who are Gen Z and 23 percent who are Millennials. Nearly half (45 percent) are caring for someone with two or more conditions—a significant jump from 37 percent in 2015.

As to ethnicity, the caregiver report notes that six in 10 are non-Hispanic White (61 percent), 17 percent are Hispanic, and 14 percent are African American.

The report’s findings indicate that one in 10 of the caregiver survey respondents are enrolled in college or taking classes (11 percent), 9 percent have served in the military and 8 percent self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.

Caregivers in Poorer Health, Feeling Financial Strain

Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 also found that caregivers face health challenges of their own with nearly a quarter (23 percent of caregivers find it hard to take care of their own health and 23 percent say caregiving has made their health worse. The report also notes that personal finances are a concern for family caregivers: 28 percent have stopped saving money, 23 percent have taken on more debt and 22 percent have used up personal short-term savings.
Sixty one percent of the caregiver respondents work and have difficulty in coordinating care.

The May 2020 caregiver report states on average, caregivers spend 23.7 hours a week providing care, with one in three (32 percent) providing care for 21 hours or more, and one in five (21 percent) providing care for 41+ hours—the equivalent of a full-time unpaid job.

“The coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating the challenges family caregivers were already facing from a personal health, financial and emotional standpoint,” said Susan Reinhard, RN, PhD, Senior Vice President at AARP. “Family caregivers provide vital help and care for their loved ones, yet this survey shows that they keep getting stretched thinner and thinner. We must identify and implement more solutions to support family caregivers—both in the short term as we grapple with coronavirus and in the long term as our population ages and the number of family caregivers declines.”

: “Without greater explicit support for family caregivers in coordination among the public and private sectors and across multiple disciplines overall care responsibilities will likely intensify and place greater pressure on individuals within families, especially as baby boomers move into old age,” warns the report’s authors, calling on Congress and state lawmakers to develop policies that ensure that caregivers do not suffer deteriorating health effects and financial insecurity.

Thoughts from AARP Rhode Island…

“The wealth of information in this report is an essential guide to policymakers,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “It reveals important trends and underlines future needs. For AARP, it provides information on how, as an organization, we can best serve Rhode Island’s 136,000 family caregivers. The challenges they face vary, making it very important that we can provide focused resources that meet any one caregiver’s needs. The report’s overall takeaway – that the number of caregivers is rising dramatically – is a call for increased awareness and support. This responsibility starts at the very top of federal, state and municipal government and flows all the way down to family members who can better share caregiving responsibilities. Many will be asked to step outside their comfort zone, so we all will have to work together,” adds Connell.

Connell noted that the report points out the shift from traditional residential health care settings to community-based settings. “The research reaches a clear conclusion,” Connell observed. “Families will have to fill new roles, learn new skills and absorb more out of pocket caregiving expenses. This will create additional the stress for many family caregivers. That’s why it is so important that we develop the training, tools and other resources caregivers require.”

A 2019 AARP report, Valuing the Invaluable, calculated that Rhode Island family caregivers provide 114 million unpaid hours of care annually. Based on the average $15.76 per hour wages of paid caregivers, family caregivers represent an economic value of an estimated $1.8 billion.

The 2020 study was funded by AARP, Best Buy Health Inc. d/b/a Great Call, EMD Serono Inc., Home Instead Senior Care®, The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, The John A. Hartford Foundation, TechWerks, Transamerica Institute, and UnitedHealthcare.

For a copy of Caregiving in the U.S. 2020, go to
https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/ppi/2020/05/full-report-caregiving-in-the-united-states.doi.10.26419-2Fppi.00103.001.pdf.