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Caregiving is a heavy burden for Florida families. It’s getting heavier.

There are nearly 3 million caregivers in Florida helping care for relatives, and it’s costing them time and money. But some help is on the way.
"Doctor" Jeremiah Corouthers, 8, puts a cast on a teddy bear with child life specialist Amanda Petryszak during the annual Doctors for a Day event in March at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa. The burden of caregiving is increasingly falling on Florida families, according to an AARP report. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published Nov. 15

From those caring for aging parents to spouses doting on sickly partners, caregiving is becoming a greater burden for many, especially in Florida.

About 2.9 million caregivers in the state provided an estimated 2.4 billion hours of care for family members in need in 2017, according to a report by the AARP, a national organization dedicated to seniors.

Those hours cost caregivers $31 billion in lost wages, out-of-pocket costs and other expenses, according to the report, which is based on the most recent data available.

“Family caregivers in Florida take on these responsibilities out of love," said AARP Florida state director Jeff Johnson in a statement, “but they’re also providing care that otherwise would have to come out of federal, state and local budgets.”

The need for caregiving is growing and getting more complex. Family demographics are shifting due to the country’s aging population. And more caregiving is being done at home as medical and nursing services shift in that direction.

Some organizations are starting to offer solutions ranging from new technologies to new programs.

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Florida Blue, the state’s largest insurer, is working with the national care giving support organization, Archangels, to provide resources to members at its retail locations across the state. The insurance company will help connect caregivers by employing full-time social workers at those centers, said Florida Blue executive vice president Sarah Iselin.

“We know now that caregivers are under tremendous stress, and feel their own health takes a toll from caring for a family member,” Iselin said.

Social workers will connect caregivers to community resources. The service is free and available to anyone, not just Florida Blue members.

In addition, GuideWell, the parent company of Florida Blue, which employs thousands in the state, will offer two weeks of fully paid caregiver leave every year to all employees beginning in January. The new benefit means employees won’t have to use vacation days or unpaid leave. GuideWell is one of the first companies to recognize this need, Iselin said.

“Less than 6 percent of employers offer this kind of benefit,” she said.

Humana also offers caregiving programs to its members. The insurer’s “caregiver tool kit” includes consent release forms and instructions on how to access loved ones’ personal healthcare information and how to share it with doctors.

AARP also launched the Coalition for Silver Solutions, with the support of elder-care industry and labor groups earlier this year, to develop strategies to address the issue. The organization is developing a “multi-year blueprint” to improve care for seniors, specifically in Florida. AARP said it has identified in-home nursing care reimbursement from Medicaid and reducing waiting lists for in-home nursing support as top legislative priorities in the state.

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The demand for caregiving is poised to hit Florida particularly hard. The state already has the highest percentage of residents 65 and older in the nation. More than half of the 900 new residents moving into Florida every day are older than 60, estimates AARP. The state will be saddled disproportionately with the cost of this population’s healthcare in the future.

“The issue is so profound in Florida, where we are aging faster than most other states,” said Jay Wolfson, a professor at the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health and an expert on health care policy. “But there are some bright spots when you consider technology’s growing role in alternatives to traditional care.”

Other experts see the rise of telemedicine as a way to ease the cost and time of caring for relatives.

BayCare, which operates several hospitals around Tampa Bay, offers an app for FaceTime appointments and partnered with Publix to open kiosks in stores for virtual care. Tampa General Hospital partnered with a Clearwater company to pilot a closet-sized booth for virtual doctors appointments. AdventHealth is working with the Epperson residential community in Wesley Chapel to install GE “smart mirrors" capable of tracking health metrics and connecting to doctors.

Medicare Advantage plans are also beefing up telemedicine benefits for seniors.

“These tech services offer an alternative to a family members driving to doctors appointments for simple needs which can be addressed on a screen,” Wolfson said. “You’re seeing so many diagnostic tools being developed for in-home use now.”

Wolfson sees this trend continuing, spurred by the need to cut healthcare costs.

He mentioned retirement communities like The Villages, or even Lakewood Ranch, which are piloting medical programs that cater to the needs of aging populations. But there are pitfalls, he said.

“There is some concern about the need for people to open up their privacy to use some of these tools,” Wolfson said.

Over the years, he sees more seniors feeling more comfortable with the technology and being able to get more needs addressed without having to leave home.

“We’ve got to look ahead," he said, "past this current generation, to see how we can help make changes that will affect people as they age, five, 10, 15 years from now.”

CAREGIVING BY THE NUMBERS:

$13.4 billion a year is the estimated financial impact annually on companies in the U.S.

43 million people in the U.S. have served as a caregiver to family member during the past year.

72,000 families currently are on state waiting lists for caregiver support services.

One in four caregivers spends 41 hours or more each week providing care.

One third of caregivers cut their work hours and 22 percent take a leave of absence to care for a family member.

One in seven Florida nurses works in a skilled nursing or hospice facility, yet skilled nursing centers experience a 62.4 percent turnover rate in direct care registered nurses – the highest rate among six categories measured.

Source: AARP & the Coalition for Silver Solutions

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