Who is caring for the aging among us? Workers. As in people who have full-time jobs are at the same time caregivers to parents, other older relatives or friends.

“One in five full-time workers is a caregiver. Across sectors, in every state, at every level of employment, caregiver status is impacting the health of individuals and the bottom line of companies,” Karen Kavanaugh, chief of strategic initiatives at Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, said. “Sixty percent of caregivers experience work disruption and a third have had to leave a job because of their caregiving responsibilities. Caregiving is not just an issue of public health—it is a significant economic challenge for employer and employee alike.”

Elder care, as it’s known, is slowly being discussed at the executive level, with companies beginning to offer benefits specifically to address this need. To start with, it is mostly larger firms that are doing so.

These benefits go beyond what state and federal law requires.

While lawmakers are continually tweaking the California Family Rights Act that was first passed in 1993, what individual employers are doing is more comprehensive and strategically designed to assist their people.

One thing that may help more workers in California is the passage this past legislative session of Senate Bill 616 that expands the minimum paid sick days from three to five starting this year. This time off may be used when a caregiver or her recipient is ill or has medical appointments.

Corporate compassion

Many caregivers who aren’t getting paid will say it is a time commitment, financial strain and emotional roller coaster. That is why companies are coming to the rescue with a variety of tools to help ease the burden.

“(Elder care) has definitely become more of a pressing concern and stressor for employees,” Goretti Hamlin, chief people officer, for Petaluma-based Amy’s Kitchen said.

Two main ways Amy’s is addressing the issue are by offering flexible schedules and paying for 16 visits through Lyra.

Hamlin explained the vendor offers a variety of services including legal and financial support, dependent or elder care resources, and the ability to connect workers with other partners.

“Fundamentally, our ways of working have changed in the last four years. We are dealing with stressors that we weren’t seeing in the workplace,” Hamlin said. “I think Covid erased the line between home and work. While we always talked about bringing the whole person to work, it became completely different when people were working from home.”

People today are speaking out more about what they need for a work-life balance.

Amy’s recently contracted with Bright Horizons, which provides elder care solutions for employers.

Financial literacy and support are the focus of Amy’s contract with Bright Horizons. Hamlin said this allows employees to work confidentially to address financial needs related to supporting older family members and how to budget for future and immediate care.

Bank of America also uses Bright Horizons in its benefits package.

“An employee can arrange for in-home back up care through Bright Horizons’ network of professionally trained caregivers when their regular adult care arrangements are temporarily not available. This back up services is offered at significantly reduced rates with Bank of America subsidizing most of the cost,” according to spokeswoman Colleen Haggerty.This benefit has provided more than 52,000 days of back-up care year to date for thousands of employees.”

Bank of America has recognized the need for elder care support for workers since it initiated a program in 2009, with enhancements being made since then.

The financial institution also offers:

  • Free and discounted elder care law support and document preparation services from attorneys on health care directives, power of attorney options and other legal matters.
  • In 2022, the bank introduced Papa, an adult caregiving service that offers an extra hand to help aging loved ones with activities like errands and transportation through a network of trained helpers. The company provides up to 15 hours annually at no cost to the employee, and additional hours are available for purchase at a discounted rate.
  • Up to six hour per year of free consultation to help evaluate ongoing senior care management.

Health technology company Medtronic says it has a “history of prioritizing employee wellbeing” for its more than 95,000 workers globally.

“We offer our employees caregiving support through Wellthy, a care concierge platform that works with families to ease their care burdens,” Denise King, vice president of global benefits and payroll at Medtronic, said. “Employees are connected with a personal care coordinator who can help manage a wide range of care needs. Whether it’s assistance hiring in-home care or navigating Medicare plans, our hope is to support employees in navigating complex, chronic or ongoing care needs–both for themselves and their family members.”

The company’s family leave program allows workers to take six weeks off every 24 months to care for a child or aging parent.

“… we know that caregiving can be emotionally taxing, which is why Medtronic offers employees access to our global employee assistance programs, as well as on-demand emotional support resources through the app Headspace Care,” King said. “With Headspace Care, employees and their family members (18 and older) can talk one-on-one with a behavioral health coach 24/7, receive tailored care that is relevant to them, and learn new strategies for overall mental health.”

Medtronic also works with Bright Horizons.

“(Bright Horizons) provides employees with back-up care services for children, as well as adult and elder family members during a lapse or breakdown in normal care arrangements,” King explained.

The pandemic led Bay Area biopharmaceutical firm Ultragynx to rethink employee benefits.

“This benefit is homegrown. We built it ourselves,” Jen Jigalin, executive director of global benefits, said. “It was really something to assist people as they were coming back to the office. We developed this benefit to offset those concerns.”

Ultragynx workers, like those at other companies, had their lives up ended when the world shut down; priorities and responsibilities changed. The company acknowledged employees had needs, like self- and family care, that they wanted addressed.

Ultragynx’s rolled out new benefits in 2022 for all types of caregiving, plus a personal wellness component. The goal is for it to be flexible. It can be used for gym memberships, child care, dog walking, or elder care expenses. The latter could include in-home help or meal services.

Of the 1,300 global employees, about 40% have taken advantage of the perk, according to Jigalin. The company uses a third party vendor to track spending and validate receipts that must be submitted for reimbursement.

Decades of experience

Bright Horizons has been helping people since 1986, with elder care a growing segment of services.

“Elders are a fast growing demographic of dependents in our clients place and across the U.S. One in three caregivers is over the age of 65, so the need for elder care is certainly more pronounced,” Priya Krishnan, Bright Horizons’ chief digital and transformation officer, said.

Bright Horizons’ has more than 200 clients in the United States using elder care services. Services range from providing advice to arranging in-home care.

Rosalyn Carter, the first lady who died in November at the age of 96, was a pioneer in the world of caregiving.

“When Mrs. Carter founded the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers in 1987, the term ‘caregiver’ was not part of our national conversation. Even those providing care did not self-identify because, to many, caring for family or friends is just ‘what you do’ for the people you love,” Kavanaugh, with the center, said. “Today, thanks to Mrs. Carter’s leadership and vision, we have a much greater understanding of what the caregiver experience looks like for the more than 53 million Americans who provide care. It’s an issue that affects our health care system, our economy, and the strength of our communities, and Mrs. Carter was ahead of her time in advocating for systems-level reform to better support caregivers.”

In 2021, the Georgia-based center published “Recalibrating for Caregivers: Recognizing the Public Health Challenge”. While many of the facts and statistics are sobering—like people having to quit their job to care for an older person, and the toll it’s taking financially and emotionally, Kavanaugh said the conclusion is that what’s needed is a “comprehensive public health approach to caregiver health and well-being.”

Kavanaugh added, “The caregiver experience is often overgeneralized. Our healthcare system and policies typically categorize caregivers by the disease condition of the care recipient, with little to no information on the lived experiences of caregivers themselves.”

The center would like employers to offer more flexible work arrangements, introduce job sharing, mental health services, including ensuring that counseling services include those with expertise in caregiving.

“While we know that employers can do more to support their employee caregivers, they cannot solve all of the problems that stem from a fragmented, inaccessible, and unaffordable long-term care system,” Kavanaugh said. “We are helping employers understand the connections between the public policy context and the challenges of their workforce so that they can add their voices and political influence to the call for systemic change.”

Note: A version of this story first appeared in the North Bay Business Journal.

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