Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Caregiver’s Christmas

Thelma needs her medicine. George is crabby again; he wants to walk on his own so badly. Families are calling; neighbors are visiting. Everyone seems to be in a great, holiday mood. And you’re working.

Caregivers don’t get a holiday break. The tasks of caregiving go around the clock, every day of the year.

And yet, the compassion of a good caregiver continues to be replenished by the smallest rewards – and the rewards are often very, very small.

Today, a great portion of Americans depend on the compassion of caregivers to provide care to a family member or to give them relief in their own work of caregiving. And yet we continue, as a society, to neglect to show our appreciation for their work.

In the year ahead we will have the opportunity to discuss ways to strengthen the workforce and rebuild the economy. Vital to this effort:

  • Increased education and training for all caregivers – mandated and funded.
  • Increased awareness of caregiving as a career track through programs that not only train but adequately recognize and compensate caregivers for their work.
  • Increased training and support for family caregivers who provide care for the majority of dependent elders in our country – often without recognition, support or encouragement.

It’s a work that is not only important to our society, but it is important to me and my family; someday – if not today – to yours as well.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The senior citizen un-retired - are we all destined to become Wal-Mart greeters?

This past weekend I played catch-up with my back-log of magazines. In the middle of gloomy and even gloomier economic news and forecasts was a story about the growing population of seniors who have had to un-retire – come out of their retirement to go back to work, simply to pay their daily bills.

My first reaction was, “Well, if they had planned better they’d be fine.”

But I kept reading.

There were stories about retired engineers and accountants who had planned carefully, putting away significant savings and paying off homes.

In every case, something unforeseen occurred, leaving the individual (or couple) scrambling to pay their bills.

In one story, cancer not only took the life of the woman involved just following her husband’s retirement, but it also wiped out their nest egg and put their financial stability in serious jeopardy.

In other stories the combined one-two punch of falling home values and the plummeting stock market left people who retired at the top of their profession looking for jobs at Wal-Mart and Home Depot. And of course, with retail sales being off, even those jobs are tough to get.

For seniors the main issues go deeper than simply not being able to pay the house payments and insurance. Health care and long-term care costs can begin to eat into savings quickly.

The ripple effect hits all generations. A recent NPR interview of college students discussing how to pay their school bills included a brief clip from a young person saying, “My parents are having to help my grandparents pay their bills now too, so I don’t know how long I’ll be able to afford to go to school here.”

The American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA) has a website called The Long Term Care Solution that has as the tag line this sentence: “Left unchecked, America’s long term care financing crisis will devastate millions of American families.” Here’s the lead story:

Walt is 82 years old. He's your father, brother, uncle. Someday, he might be you. Like so many others, he's experienced a physical setback - car wreck, stroke, diabetes, heart disease - and now he needs help. Perhaps bathing, or dressing, or going to the bathroom - just doing some of the things we all take for granted. He needs this help every day, for the rest of his life, and the cost for his long-term care will become overwhelming to him and his family. This financial crisis should never happen to anyone. But it does . . . every day.

This is real life for many seniors and their families today. Most of these individuals do not have the option to un-retire.

Like so much that affects one segment of our population, it doesn’t just stop there. Yes, it’s a societal problem.

But for millions of Americans today, it’s also personal. It’s time for action – and action always starts with the individual.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Nursing shortages in the US – creating jobs that have long term positive effects

I’m in the education business – but I’m also in the business of improving the quality of care we provide seniors and others in our society.

Today, I found myself arguing on the side of less training – maybe for the first time ever. A proposal came to my attention to increase the hours of nursing assistant training before certification. On the surface, I can say, “Yeah; more work for me!”

Inside I know that more hours of training isn’t what we need right now. What we truly need now is a clear, barrier free path to help individuals who want to enter caregiving and health care do so. Our training programs are already strong and robust. It’s getting people into the programs that’s the problem.

While we’re in the middle of a nursing shortage that is fast becoming a crisis, we’re discussing barriers to getting individuals trained.

One area college has a 7 year waiting list for individuals to get into their nursing assistant training program.

One group of individuals – all straight “A” students – applied to every nursing school in the area, only to be rejected by all.

As most problems go, this one has neither a simple explanation nor a simple answer. Getting more students into the front door requires getting more people out the top end of the career ladder; in short, more individuals trained and qualify to teach those wanting to get started.

We can effectively train more people using the instructors we currently have if we’ll start tapping into technology. Even using minimal online course components can reduce the hours of instructor time needed overall, freeing up those individuals to teach hands’ on elements of care. Many students today prefer to look up information they need on the internet, and have gained great proficiency at learning what they want, when they want it using technology.

There’s a fabulous video on that spells out, in stunning clarity, the changes we have faced in the world of technology and learning in the past 10 years. It’s called Shift Happened: Educational (Technology) Reform. If you haven’t watched it, take a minute to do so today.

Albert Einstein is quoted in the video as saying, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” It’s time for health care education and training to catch up; to use technology wisely and well to build the workforce for the future.