AARP Seeks Improved State Help For Caregivers

05.16.14 | Bill Price

For Terry Lewis, caring for his elderly mother-in-law is an instinctively loving act for a family member. But trying to determine how to best handle the range of duties that come with the caregiver role is one area where the Binghamton resident isn’t alone.

Lewis was among roughly 20 people who listened Thursday as members of the state AARP outlined a proposal to improve assistance for people who take care of their loved ones at home. The two-hour presentation was held at the Holiday Inn in Binghamton.

The AARP’s proposed “CARE Act” is designed to improve how hospitals help caregivers learn after-care tasks for loved ones and strengthen community resources that help. It stands for Caregiver Advise, Record and Enable, and has yet to go before elected officials in Albany.

“For us, it’s about trying to get her situated so she’s comfortable, but also about finding the right avenues,” Lewis said of being a new caregiver for his mother-in-law. “It’s not so much just care — it’s about housing, medical insurance and finding out what resources are available in the community.”

New York state has added $5 million in funding for caregiver programs in this year’s budget, but more needs to be done, according to the AARP, a nonprofit agency. The AARP, in lobbying for new legislation, is asking for additional funding for in-home services for the elderly versus costlier measures of residing in nursing homes.

An estimated 40,000 Broome County residents ages 50 and older are expected to be providing unpaid care to an adult relative or friend over the next five years, the AARP said.

“If you look at how the system works, the caregivers are the bedrock,” AARP President Neal Lane said Thursday. “If we ask this commitment from caregivers and don’t support them enough, the older person might one day need medical care the caregiver won’t be able to support financially.”

New York ranks 48th in supporting family caregivers, the AARP said. About 4.1 million of the nation’s caregivers provide an estimated $32 billion worth of unpaid care annually for parents, spouses and other loved ones, the AARP said.

At the Broome County Office for Aging, approximately 500 people used the agency’s caregiver referrals for community servicesand educational programs last year.

Additional state funding to help these people find the right resources would be welcome, said Lisa Schuhle, program manager at the Office for Aging.

“Every day these people find themselves in the new role,” she said. “There a lot of people doing this who don’t have a lot of disposable income to help with the added cost.”

It’s estimated that 25 percent of caregivers statewide dedicate at least 40 hours a week to those duties, according to the AARP.

While there are resources in communities to help, more funding can keep options open for caregivers in the years to come, Lane said.

“A small investment in supporting people who do most of the work just makes good sense,” Lane said.