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November 24, 1999
Eldercare Issues - Helping Employees Cope
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know it if you are a member of the "Sandwich Generation." You feel the double pressure of raising children and taking care of your elderly parents,and you're not alone.

Currently, one in four workers in the United States has some eldercare responsibility, and almost twice that number expect to be facing such duties in the coming five years. Nor will this problem be going away anytime soon. The number of Americans older than 64 is expected to increase from 34 million in 1995 to 62 million by the year 2025.

Companies started responding to the eldercare issue back in the late 1980s, and more and more are adopting policies to help their employees cope with the pressure.

St. John's University in Jamaica, New York, started offering its employees eldercare benefits three years ago. "We have a number of employees who are in the Sandwich Generation," explains Janice D. Villiers, director of human resources for the university, "and we thought offering them eldercare benefits would help them deal with the problems they may have when taking care of elderly relatives. On the other hand, we knew it would help the university as well, because it meant that our employees wouldn't have to be distracted or have to take as much time off to deal with these concerns.

"Since we have started the program, we have found that it really does save our employees time. The feedback we get from employees has really been gratifying. Employees typically call us after seminars or after they have had contact with a counselor, and they rave about how helpful the program has been and how much legwork they had undergone before getting this information. The program helped cut down on a lot of the research they would have had to do themselves."

Referral Services

One of the most difficult aspects of taking care of an elderly relative is finding needed resources, such as nursing care, adult daycare, Medicare or Medicaid assistance, or transportation.

This problem is compounded when Mom or Dad live in another city or state. "Our employees are able to get referrals for all sorts of needed information," says Villiers, "even if their parents live in Washington State."

The university hired Partnership for Eldercare, a company that offers counseling, referral services, and seminars about eldercare issues, to handle this benefit for the school's 1,500 full-time employees. "The Partnership has connections with state departments for the aging throughout the United States, so they are able to make appropriate referrals and get names of nursing homes, adult daycare, or even home health services.

"Most individuals just don't have the sophistication with the social service systems or with Medicare or Medicaid to be able to find all the answers they need. What sort of requirements are needed for their parent to become eligible for certain benefits? When the parent is discharged from the hospital, is he or she eligible for nursing care? What circumstances make you eligible or not? Most of us are not familiar with these kinds of issues, so having a resource where we can go and ask those questions is a wonderful tool."

EAPs Can Help

KeySpan Energy in Hicksville, New York, also offers its 7,000 employees referral services that encompass the entire United States, only it uses its employee assistance program (EAP) to do so. "Our EAP program is able to offer referrals for everything from nursing homes to cleaning services to meal programs," says John Brody, director of health services.

The company had contracted with an outside company to provide its eldercare benefits, but soon discovered that its EAP program could duplicate the services being provided. "We decided that since our EAP program was basically providing us with the same things, we [would] use them. What we did have to do, however, was to raise the awareness of our employees that the EAP could provide them with counseling and referrals," says Brody.

Flexible Spending

If the relative they are caring for is claimed as a dependent, KeySpan allows its employees to also set up a "dependent care flexible spending account," allowing them to contribute up to $5,000 annually in pre-tax dollars toward dependent care. The money in the account can be used for adult daycare or even in-home care for the person, though it cannot be used to cover medical expenses.


Another useful component for employees dealing with eldercare issues is having counseling services available. It is a difficult time for them, especially if the elderly person they are caring for is their parent.

There is often a reversal of roles between the child and parent. The child is now taking care of the parent, who still wants to have a say in the complicated health and financial decisions being made. Often friction arises that can be exacerbated if the parent is living with the child or needs constant care. As the parent's health deteriorates, the employee also must deal with the possibility of the death of the parent.

"Our employees can pick up the phone anytime and contact a trained counselor who can help them through the difficult times by giving them the information and support they need during this time. There is no limit on how often they can call," says Villiers. "In addition, we also have counselors from the Partnership come on campus occasionally for face-to-face consultations.


Along with counseling comes education. Both KeySpan and St. John's offer numerous seminars on diverse eldercare topics for their employees. "We have people from Social Security and Medicare come in and talk to our employees," explains Brody, "and we also offer classes on issues such as understanding elder law, caring for an elderly parent in your home, screening home health care agencies, and interviewing care givers."

Some of the topics, however, are not just geared specifically toward the elderly relative. "We also have seminars that discuss financial planning, drawing up wills, and estate planning," notes Villiers, "and we have ones that talk about what you can expect to face as you grow older yourself. We call that one "Aging in the New Age. "

Just the Beginning

Brody believes these types of topics are going to become even more prevalent in the near future. "People are living longer and working longer," he notes. "And eldercare issues are going to move from just being a concern of employees about elderly relatives to concern about the actual employees themselves.

"Employers are going to find that their workforce is aging, and it won't be uncommon to have a significant portion of the workforce over the age of 60. As that happens, we are going to have to address the needs of these workers, in addition to helping them work better in the workplace."

Eldercare Web sites

To assist you in finding information and support services regarding your eldercare concerns, log on to these Web sites that offer a wide-range of helpful suggestions:

An information and referral network, AgeNet is designed to communicate information about products and services that are important to enhancing the quality of life of older adults and their families. For employees with eldercare responsibilities, this site provides good information; it's worth passing along to employees.

The site proclaims itself to be "one of the oldest and most comprehensive eldercare gateways on the Web." Basically, it's an on-line sourcebook with thousands of reviewed links to on-line information about health, financing, housing, aging, and other issues related to the care of the frail elderly.

Copyright 1999. Reprinted with permission from "Best Practices in Compensation & Benefits" with permission of the publisher, Business & Legal Reports, Inc.

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