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July 10, 2002
New Benefits Aimed at Elder Care
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ew class of corporate benefits is being offered to some of the nation's 15 million or so workers who must care for elderly loved ones, according to The New York Times.

Mirroring the evolution of corporate child care, the new programs include such benefits as providing access to geriatric-care managers.

The Times counts Ford, J. P. Morgan Chase, and Pearson Education among the companies that have begun offering such benefits in the last 18 months.

"It's a quantum leap in the right direction," said Donna Wagner, a professor of gerontology at Towson University in Maryland. "It addresses the first questions that every caregiver asks: `Is something wrong with my mother?' and `Do I need to do something?' "

For employers, geriatric-care benefits make increasing sense, the Times observes. It cites a report that corporate America loses around $11 billion a year because of absenteeism, turnover, and lost productivity among full-time employees who care for elderly people.

The drain is especially acute among those who do not live near the person for whom they are caring. About one-fourth of workers who take care of a relative living an hour or more away miss at least one day of work a month, the National Council on the Aging says.

By law, many workers who care for elderly relatives can get time off. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave to workers in companies of 50 employees or more who have an immediate family member with a serious health condition. But in recent years, companies have begun offering other kinds of help.

The Society for Human Resource Management surveyed 550 companies, with work forces ranging from 1 to 80,000 employees, and learned that one-fifth of the firms provide telephone resources and referral services on care for the elderly. That's up from 15 percent in 1998.

Rates vary by company, but about 5 percent of employees, on average, use child care services, and about 3 percent use geriatric care benefits at any particular company, according to LifeCare Inc., a work-life benefits provider based in Westport, Conn.

"There's been a lot of concern that maybe the eldercare services that employers were offering weren't what employees really needed," said Gail Gibson Hunt, the executive director of the National Alliance for Caregiving.

While the new type of geriatric care benefits may prove more useful, the need for such care is often unpredictable. Most people do not think much about the subject or pay attention to related employee benefits until an older relative becomes ill or has an accident, or until signs of deterioration mount.

The Times notes that, unlike child-rearing, geriatric care often involves sickness and legal or insurance tangles, matters that employees tend to struggle with privately.

To view the New York Times article, click here. The newspaper requires registration, but it's free.


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