The task of caring for a sick or elderly loved one is an emotionally and physically challenging job. In addition to the skills necessary to complete one's job, the caregiver must posses a level of patience, understanding, and compassion that helps them treat society's most vulnerable with the dignity and respect they deserve.
Families as Caregivers
For a person who suffers from a chronically debilitating disease, age related conditions, or a disability that requires care, the first and most immediate caregiver is usually a family member. According to government statistics, 95% of older people receive their primary care from family members. More than any other group caregivers have been and continue to be women. They are usually the family members that provide the necessary and constant care. For women this burden of caring for a family member not only increases their daily workload but it also can mean the loss of professional opportunities, increased physical injuries and additional emotional stress.
Among long term care recipients there is an overwhelming desire to remain at home as long as possible. Unfortunately, current long term care financing programs usually do not recognize this desire and do not provide adequate financial assistance so that families who seek to keep a loved one at home are able to bring in qualified professional caregivers. In fact, in recent years the federal Medicare budget has actually decreased the amount of money available to families for home care.
Professional caregivers are burdened with the same hardships in caring for people with disabilities, the chronically ill and aged that family members are; however, they do not have the same immediate emotional connection of a family member who is taking care of a loved one. Nevertheless, professional caregivers provide patients with help in many of their most intimate activities of daily living (ADLs) including bathing, dressing, and toiletting. As with family caregivers, the overwhelming majority of these workers are middle-aged women. The very nature of assisting patients with many of their ADLs is a physical job, which many of the women cannot perform without the risk of serious injury.
Long term care providers such as nursing homes, home care agencies and individual clients must be reimbursed by the government and private payers at rates that are sufficiently adequate to provide the necessary number of caregivers to meet client needs and to compensate these caregivers appropriately. The lack of adequate reimbursement from third party sources has depressed wages which, coupled with the physically and emotionally demanding nature of the work has led to staff turnover rates in excess of 100 percent annually. The high turnover rate means providers are unable to spend the necessary time and resources to continuously train caregivers. Ultimately, the quality of care that a patient receives depends on the training and dedication of their immediate caregiver. If employee turnover continues unabated, providers and caregivers will find it increasingly difficult to maintain quality care.
Long term care financing reform will have a direct and immediate effect on the quality of care that patients receive. Whether it allows family members to keep a loved one at home longer with the help of a home care professional or it increases the wages and training of professional caregivers, long term care financing reform, will improve the patients' well being through a more highly skilled professional workforce dedicated to patient care.