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Workers who double as caregivers get help in St. Andrew's program

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    Workers who double as caregivers get help in St. Andrew's program

    Workers who double as caregivers get help in St. Andrew's program
    By Judith VandeWater
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    07/09/2002 08:59 PM

    Patricia Barton (left), a 33-year veteran of Monsanto Co., serves as the primary caregiver for her mother-in-law, Irma Barton, who spends most of her time at home in Florissant. Along with her husband, Patricia Barton has asked an elder-care specialists from St. Andrew's At Home Services for help in finding a day-care center that would give her mother-in-law more social contact.

    Employees caring for an elderly parent or a spouse in failing health can feel stressed and exhausted, as if they were working two jobs with no time for rest.

    Employers bear costs, too, as workers become responsible for the welfare of older family members. Employees might need time off to handle emergencies at home or to take a relative to a medical appointment. In their spare minutes at work, they might be on the phone with doctors, lawyers, pharmacists and insurance companies.

    Two out of three adult caregivers work outside the home, and caregiving is creating an escalating cost and challenge that few businesses have begun to address, said Ann Bannes, vice president of St. Andrew's At Home Services.

    A report in 2000 by the National Family Care Givers Association estimated the cost to business for losses associated with employee caregivers at $11 billion to $29 billion a year. The costs included absenteeism, lost productivity and training replacement workers.

    A report released June 28 by the Alzheimer's Association estimates the costs to business for workers who double as caregivers for Alzheimer's patients at $36.5 billion a year.

    Though experts disagree on the magnitude of the financial impact on business, Bannes said, no doubt exists that employers are bearing a burden and that it will increase as the population ages.

    Lightening the load

    St. Andrew's At Home Services, a nonprofit organization sponsored by St. Andrew's Resources for Seniors, has enlisted 10 large St. Louis employers in a project to design workplace-based programs that lighten the load for caregivers. A successful program would help companies to keep employees in the work force, focused on their jobs.

    Monsanto Co., Maritz Inc., Sunnen Products Co., Stifel Nicolaus, UniGroup, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, Brown Shoe Co., Emerson's motors division, St. Joseph Hospital of Kirkwood and the Webster Groves School District have joined with the St. Andrew's shop to serve as the laboratory in a three-year project to design workplace-based programs to support family caregivers.

    St. Andrew's is funding the project with a three-year grant from the federal Administration on Aging, so participation is free to employers.

    Two elder-care specialists from St. Andrew's, Cynthia Ballentine and Theresa Braford, meet in small groups or individually with employees at their workplaces.

    Braford said many workers she counsels are concerned about their loved one's safety. Some want coaching on when and how to take away the car keys. They have questions about memory loss and dementia.

    Braford said she refers many clients to the geriatric-assessment clinic at Washington University School of Medicine for an evaluation of physical and mental functioning.

    Ballentine and Braford make home visits, as well, and draw up individual care plans, providing referrals to meal services, housekeeping, home repair and similar services that prolong independent living.

    Also, they can provide advice on assisted-living and nursing-home care.

    "It's like a maze out there learning about the resources, where to go and what to do," Braford said. "What people need is information."

    Braford and Ballentine will do the legwork to reduce the time caregivers spend on the phone.

    "Even if someone knows what agency to call, usually they get a machine, and that person has to call them back. It's a time-consuming thing," Braford said.

    Providing a benefit

    Allen Pritchett, manager of human resources for St. Joseph Hospital of Kirkwood, said that in the last 18 months, more employees have taken family medical leave, have adjusted their work schedules or have taken less-demanding jobs so they can focus on caring for a parent. Many employees are caring for a terminally ill parent, Pritchett said.

    About 40 percent of St. Joseph's employees who responded to a survey by St. Andrew's said they were caregivers for older adults.

    Pritchett said the hospital suffers costs when nursing employees have unscheduled absences because of caregiving crises at home. But the potential for cutting costs by reducing unscheduled absences wasn't the main reason St. Joseph wanted to participate in the St. Andrew's program.

    "We care very much about our employees," he said. "As a health-care provider, we want them to be very healthy."

    Employees focused on problems at home can't be comfortable at work, he said.

    Louise Autry, benefits coordinator for Emerson's motors division, said senior managers at the company were unresponsive initially to her requests that it participate in the St. Andrew's program. But she underscored the potential for cost savings through productivity improvements and convinced them that they didn't have to subsidize program or employee costs.

    She believes that the St. Andrew's program has proved a "wonderful benefit."

    Partricia Barton, a 33-year veteran of Monsanto, has a similar opinion. Braford is helping her to investigate whether the state will pay for a health-aide visit a few days a week for her live-in mother-in-law, Irma Barton.

    Patricia Barton and her husband, John Barton, work at Monsanto. Most days, Irma Barton, 87, remains at home, puttering or watching television. She needs to be reminded to take her medicine and to attend to personal hygiene.

    Patricia Barton's daughter works flexible hours and checks on her grandmother during the day. Barton has asked Braford to locate a day-care center that would accommodate her mother-in-law's health condition and would provide her with more social contact.

    "It's a godsend," Barton said of the service. "I can't say enough about Monsanto in bringing this to us."

    For details

    You can find more information about St. Andrew's At Home Services for businesses or individuals by calling 314-726-5766 or visiting the Web site at

    I have to say here, that while I totally am in agreement with programs and focus on eldercare, I think the focus should be on caregiving in general. Every disability has it's own criteria for caregiving; while the program above may be applicable for some, for other high level quads who need round the clock care, it just won't work.

    Focus is being paid to the 'plight' of caregivers, I just don't think the focus is broadbased enough to do much good for those of us who have family members with severe disabilities. We don't have to know when to take the car keys away; we need to know that there's going to be someone in house who's competent to handle dysreflexia, or a clogged catheter, or a fall out of a chair, or suctioning.

    Maybe it's time for me to drag my old 60's activism out of the closet and get busy!

    Tough times don't last - tough people do.