Facebook Twitter



Corporations and government agencies around the country are beginning to take part in addressing shortages in day care for children.

Some are helping employees (and themselves, since time lost for child care is costly to the company) by establishing day care centers.Others are linking into networks to provide employees with information and referrals to find day care providers.

It's a start, and though experts say there's more to be done, they're basically optimistic.

But there's another type of care that has received little attention: help for those who care for elderly relatives and friends.

These care givers save the government about $762 a month per elderly patient. They provide services that keep the elderly in the community, instead of in nursing homes or on government programs.

Angela Heath, health advocacy services program specialist for the American Association of Retired Persons, recently described these efforts to a group of journalists in Washington, D.C.

AARP conducted a survey in 1987 of 1,000 caregivers who were providing services with personal care, or with things like finances, meals, and household chores.

With the information they gathered, researchers painted a profile of the average care giver. Three-quarters are female, average age 46. Thirty-seven percent share a household with the older person. More than half are employed - most of them full-time.

And, of special significance to employers is the information that one-third of the full-time workers take some time from work to provide care, while 37 percent of the part-timers do.

These people usually care for their parents, their spouse or their grandparents. On average, they spend 12 hours a week in caregiving, and 60 percent use their own money to pay for it.

The most common expenses they face are travel, phone, the cost of special diets and medication.

Business coalitions began to recognize the toll care giving was taking on employees - and therefore the employers - in the mid-'70s.

With more than 2.2 million care givers in America, if 25 percent of the work force loses one day a year to either adult or child care, executives figured it could cost a large company up to $2 million annually.

So members of the Washington Business Group on Health, which represents over 200 of the Fortune 500 companies, formed a coalition to conduct research and policy analysis. Later, about one-fifth of them designed programs to assist employees who are care givers.

One in 10 companies now provide at least information on day care for children. A much, much smaller percentage do anything about elder care. But here's a sampling of what a few are doing:

- Many companies are distributing information to care givers. And some of them have formed support groups at the work site.

- Hallmark initiated Family Care Choices, which offers information and referral for both adult and child day care, providing a toll-free number to its employees. Of referral requests, 13 percent were for elder care.

- Pepsico established a "dependent care spending account," allowing the employee to reduce his salary on a pre-tax basis for dependent care, then reimburse himself. (Many companies are beginning to offer this option for both elder and child care. The child or senior citizen requiring care must be claimed as a tax dependent, must be in the house at least eight hours a day. Employees must use the care to work outside the home.)

- American Express and the New York Department for Aging formed a "Partnership for Eldercare," which offers a menu of choices in direct services, education services and training to employees in that state.

- IBM contracted with local agencies for a nationwide information and referral program. The employee pays for services used, but IBM pays referral costs. A growing number of companies are establishing similar programs.

- Stride Right is establishing an on-site intergenerational day care facility. (They found that one-quarter of their employees had elderly relatives they cared for at home.) By 1991, they will offer 60 slots for children, 30 for elders. The company subsidizes the center and employees pay from $20-95 a week on a sliding fee scale based on income.

- Southern New England Telephone uses its retirees club to provide elder care. Healthy former employees help less healthy former employees.

Smaller companies are becoming involved, too. And, as the elderly account for larger percentages of the population, experts agree that caregiving and related issues will become increasingly important.