County offers support for caregivers of elderly

Jeannette Livingston first helped care for her grandmother, who lived to be 102.

Now she is caring for her mother, who is 76.

Livingston, a contract administrator for Sedgwick County's Comcare, a community mental health center, got help from a program that assists caregivers still in the work force.

It puts them in touch with resources that can make caring for an elderly family member more manageable.

The program, offered by Sedgwick County Department on Aging/Central Plains Agency on Aging, also offers a support group.

The program reaches people through employers. Any employer can sign up to be a partner. For the general public, the aging department also offers caregiver programs available to anyone.

Livingston said she and her mother took advantage of Via Christi Healthcare Outreach Program for Elders (HOPE) program for her grandmother.

"My grandmother lived to be 102, and we were able to keep her at home until the last week of her life," Livingston said.

When her grandmother died, Livingston began taking advantage of the working caregivers program to help her

manage work with the assistance she gives her mother.

The program has helped her access assistance with Medicare, and she learned about a senior apartment complex for her mother.

Livingston said she takes her mother shopping and helps her get to doctor's appointments.

About 80 percent of all such care provided to the elderly is done by family members such as Livingston, according to information from Conni Mansaw, the working caregiver care manager for the county's department on aging and Central Plains.

Livingston said she appreciates a resource to turn to for help.

"It's been kind of an effort countywide to accommodate caregiving," she said.

Monica Cissell, director of housing and community services for the department on aging, said the working caregiver program kicked off as a pilot project last year.

It works to provide a single point of contact for information and assistance for caregivers who have job responsibilities and consults with local employers. The program, Cissell said, helps caregivers better manage everyday responsibilities they may have caring for a family member and reduce their own health risks. Services provided include on-site consultation to identify the caregiver's needs, education for employee assistance program staff on elder care issues to ensure that employees remain in the work force, referrals to community resources, training, workshops and support groups.

The program has worked with employees at Atwater Community Center, Boeing, E.C. Tyree Health and Dental Clinic, Cox Communications, Delta Dental, Sedgwick County, SRS, St. Mark United Methodist Church and Wesley Medical Center.

Employers, Cissell said, are smart to offer the program to their employees because having support leads to less missed work.

"If they get the assistance they need for their loved one, they will not take as many days off and be there mentally at work," Cissell said.

Statistics provided by the county show that 47 percent of caregivers are employed, and 71 percent of those are employed full-time. About 65 percent of all caregivers are 35 to 64 years old.

Employers lose $34 billion a year in lost productivity to caregiving, statistics show. That figure includes replacing employees who quit because of caregiving commitments, workday interruptions, absenteeism and increased health and mental health costs, among other factors.

The working caregiver program offers "lunch and learn" sessions on topics such as reducing stress and gives caregivers a chance to talk to each other and share tips, Cissell said.

About 160 people at the partner businesses have taken advantage of the program, Cissell said.

"The whole point is to support that working caregiver and help maintain that caregiving role and stay healthy themselves," Cissell said. "It's a forward-thinking way to support your employees. It's just like supporting your employees through an EAP (employee assistance program)."

Sometimes employees don't tell their supervisors that they care for an elderly family member, Cissell said. They might be worried about being passed over for a promotion, for example, she said.

The working caregiver program tries to work with employers' human relations departments because "it's really important for the supervisors and managers to 'get it' " she said.

Various organizations in Sedgwick County offer programs for older people "that people just don't know about," such as transportation services, she said.

Sheena Lynch, a human relations specialist with the county, said the county has offered classes to caregivers four times this year.

"If an employee comes in and they have a specific need, we always refer them to the department on aging," Lynch said.

Lynch said she encourages employees to let their supervisors know what responsibilities they have.

"Let your employer know what's going on," she said.

Information about the program is available by calling 316-660-5120.