Day 15: “Family Caregivers Go on Strike, Stealing Attention Away From NBA Strike”

What if Family Caregivers Went on Strike?

November 15, 2011

By Sean Coffey, Policy Specialist at Family Caregiver Alliance

During the past 15 years, researchers have analyzed a number of topics around the impact of being a family caregiver.  There are plenty of data about the effect of caregiving on the caregiver’s health, including increased risks of depression, stress, a weakened immune system, and huge financial risks of quitting work to become a family caregiver.

Despite all that is known about the strain of caregiving, the last several years have been a “mixed bag” in terms of laws and policies being enacted that support family caregivers and state budget crunches have forced advocates to play defense against cuts to programs that support caregivers.  It leads one to wonder…What would “A Month without Family Caregivers” look like?   Imagine the headlines!

Caregiver Times

“Family Caregivers Go on Strike, Stealing Attention Away From NBA Strike”

By Joe Caregiver
December 1, 2011.

Hospitals, doctors, nursing homes, and government officials are scrambling after the nation’s 65.7 million family caregivers called a strike two weeks ago, promising to go on strike for the rest of the year until improvements are made to the support system for family caregivers.

Dr. John Smith, the CEO of a local hospital explained, “We don’t know what to do.  There are patients stacked two or three to a room, and some of these patients require round-the-clock attention!   When are we supposed to sleep?”

Senator George Barnes explained:

Who knew there were so many people being taken care of in their own homes?   Due to the shortage of family caregivers, I’ve had to take three people into my home.  Have you tried applying for Medicaid?  It’s not easy!  They want to know personal financial details in order for us to get help.  Plus, one of the people I’m caring for doesn’t fit into the eligibility requirements for a Medicaid Waiver because she’s only 58.  What am I supposed to do for two years until she turns 60?  Another person I’m caring for would have been great for a program, but she’s number #305 on the waiting list.

Sarah Barnes, a family caregiver for her husband for the past five years told us:

Y’know, it’s been great dropping my husband off with Senator Barnes.  I’ve had time to refocus on myself, seeing old friends I haven’t seen, and I don’t have to worry about leaving my husband home alone.  I’m getting 8 hours of sleep each night, and I feel refreshed.  I only have to take care of bathing myself, clothing myself, and feeding myself because Senator Barnes is taking care of these activities for my husband.  I’ve started working again, and I must say, it’s been wonderful to have income again and not have to count every single penny.

Al Johnson, one of the “temporary family caregivers” who was drafted by the government to address the crisis was shocked about his employer’s reaction when he informed them he needed some time to also serve as a caregiver: 

I asked my HR department if I could have some time off since I’m also serving as a family caregiver.  They told me that since there are only 25 employees at our company, the Family Medical Leave Act doesn’t cover me.  Besides, even if I could take it, it’s unpaid leave.  They told me that my options were to continue working 40 hours a week or quit my job, and say goodbye to my health care and their match with my retirement program!

Besides the employment issues, Mr. Johnson also complained that he has been forced to provide hands-on care for which he received little training.  “Not only am I having to learn ‘on the job,’ I’ve also had to be the main coordinator of all the health care services.  The doctors don’t necessarily talk to each other, so I’ve had to coordinate communication between them.”

Ima Good, the woman behind the two-week old strike explained that the strike will continue until Congress acts.

Our demands are fairly simple.  We want the Family Medical Leave Act to provide paid leave.  We want some regularity around Medicaid rules- why is it that a family caregiver could be paid by Medicaid in one state, but not in another or that states have different rules around how many assets or income you can keep?

Ms. Good also pointed out that other countries provide caregiver tax credits, especially important for women who are more likely to live in poverty in their old age, partly due to the fact that women are more likely to have served as caregivers.

It remains to be seen how Congress will respond.  Caregivers provide $450 billion in unpaid care every year, an amount that dwarfs what Medicaid spent in 2009 on long-term services and supports ($119 billion).  Wall Street analysts think the strike thus far has cost the nation’s employers about $4 billion in lost productivity, while a spokesperson for the American Association of Hospitals estimates that the transfer of caregiving responsibilities thus far is costing the hospitals a total of $2 billion a week.

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Day 15: “Family Caregivers Go on Strike, Stealing Attention Away From NBA Strike” by By Sean Coffey, Policy Specialist, Family Caregiver Alliance is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

1 comment to Day 15: “Family Caregivers Go on Strike, Stealing Attention Away From NBA Strike”

  • Great thought experiment. It tells me how far we have yet to go to make it clear that family care-giving is not a private “family” issue, but a social policy concern. Yes, I do believe there is a win-win in supporting family caregivers, but even if there weren’t — isn’t it just the right thing for the society we want to be?

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