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Long Distance Caregiving

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Cost, Uncertainty and Stress Plague Long-Distance Caregivers

By Maureen Hewitt

$8,728 a year. No vacations. No retirement savings. 23 hours a week and up.

This is the not-so-secret code of the long-distance caregiver:

  • $8,728 is the average annual out-of-pocket cost;
  • 47% stopped taking vacations to make up for caregiving costs and a lack of extra time;
  • 35% stopped saving for retirement; and
  • 23 hours up to 41 hours a week are spent on providing care, depending on income.

Being a long-distance caregiver is incredibly stressful and frustrating.  It’s difficult locating and vetting caregivers from a distance and the National Institute on Aging says there are approximately 7 million people in the United States trying to carry out this daunting task.

But there is help available.

Imagine working with a single care coordinator who, on your behalf, scrutinizes healthcare providers, offers assistance with financial questions, manages the care delivered by different physicians and other healthcare specialists, and generally takes on all tasks associated with providing care.

This care coordinator removes the burden from the family caregiver and puts it squarely on the care coordination provider. And with good reason. Organizations with expertise for providing care coordination services have the wherewithal and contacts within the industry to ensure a loved one’s care is delivered with the highest standards.

Care coordination organizations report to the family caregiver on all aspects of the loved one’s care, including medical and physical condition, outside activities and more. Essentially, every aspect of care and activity is monitored and reported to the caregiver.

Is Care Coordination Necessary?

Is care coordination the most important step to take when it comes to protecting and improving the health of a loved one? I believe it is because care coordination is the foundation of every other choice you make when helping an aging loved one. No matter who helps you coordinate care, researchers and the sheer number of care choices bears this out: you and your loved one will benefit from help.

For aging adults to maintain a level of independence, a number of resources should be put in place to keep them safe and healthy. Choosing the right ones is often difficult. Finding and securing services needed to care for aging adults is complicated and time-consuming. There are many choices to make: medical care, personal care, transportation, mental health counseling and much more. Then there are basic needs: utilities and food. All are important. Depending on the mental and physical condition of your loved one, all or some will be necessary.

A recent study by the Rand Corporation says elderly “patients with chronic illnesses often face care that is poorly coordinated. They may see many different health care providers working in multiple clinical locations, and poor communication between provider and patient is common. These factors can lead to higher use of health services and poorer outcomes.”

Choosing the Right Care Coordination Organization

Selecting a care coordination or caregiving service for a loved one is a difficult task for everyone involved. The decision will be time-consuming, emotionally-charged and very personal.

No matter the type of service chosen, the organization should be able to help you navigate the medical and financial sides of care coordination. There are many choices to make. Will your loved one need:

  • medical care,
  • personal care,
  • transportation,
  • rehabilitation services;
  • meals; and/or
  • mental health counseling?

There are local services—many cities have offices on aging with resources—that can help narrow your focus, and find a service to benefit you and your loved one. Alternatively, family caregivers often find a happy medium by working directly with an organization that provides consultative care coordination services. Other caregivers are more comfortable with community organizations, like local chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association. Yet another option may be the loved one’s own health insurance plan.

With some help, your burden can be eased while your loved one benefits from improved health and more efficient, less costly care.

The Team

While care coordination frequently reduces cost through better, more efficient use of health services, it also improves the quality of life for both the caregiver and their loved one, which leads to better health outcomes. Care coordination, Rand confirms, saves money and reduces hospitalizations. I don’t know anyone who wants to spend more time in the hospital.

The care coordination organization and the caregiver are a team. Using the knowledge of the organization and the caregiver, the team makes decisions concerning the health and well-being of the loved one with the goal of improved health outcomes for the loved one, lower overall costs and far less stress for the caregiver.

Maureen Hewitt is President and Chief Executive Officer at InnovAge, which is based in Denver. With more than 20 years of leadership at for-profit and non-profit health care organizations, Hewitt leads InnovAge, which provides essential services and support for aging adults in California, Colorado and New Mexico. Hewitt has many years of experience leading skilled nursing/sub-acute care facilities, and with acute care and rehabilitation hospitals.

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