Filed Under:Health Insurance, Individual Health

Backup elder care proving popular

When young Beatles fans first heard “When I’m 64,” the lyric, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me?” was only a cute rhyme. Now, replaying their memories of the Fab Four’s U.S. invasion 50 years ago, aging baby boomers may find the questions more relevant.

More than 40 million people had responsibility for an elder’s care in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many who are responsible for this care have day jobs to go to and must hire someone else to help their aging relative, typically a parent, with bathing, dressing, housekeeping and transportation. When these regular care-giving plans fall through, employees often must take time off from work to provide the care themselves.

Now, a growing number of employers are coming to the rescue by offering emergency backup care benefits. 

Related story: Dr. Marion: There's More than Enough Elder Care Work for All

The economic reasons for doing this are straightforward. According to a survey by care provider Bright Horizons, employees who had access to backup elder care were able to work an average of six days over a six-month period that they otherwise would have missed.

Employees are increasingly relying on backup elder care, according to Stephen Kramer, Bright Horizons' chief development officer, “because their need is certainly increasing.” 

Illustrating the point, during Hurricane Sandy, Watertown, Mass.-based Bright Horizons saw over 11,000 uses of its backup care program over a three-week period.

Jody Gastfriend, vice president of senior care services for Care.com, another company that provides backup elder care services, said employers have come to realize that the service increases employee productivity and helps them attract and retain good workers.

It’s also an “equalizer,” Gastfriend said, to offer various kinds of backup care, because companies that offer only child-care benefits are sometimes seen as unfair to employees who do not have children.

This way, “there’s more of an emphasis of benefits throughout the lifespan,” she said. “That includes self-care. Employees can use this backup care for themselves, if they are out on temporary disability and need some help at home.” 

Gastfriend and Kramer both find that employers are willing to subsidize the benefit because, Kramer said, “there’s a strong ROI benefit to the employer and the cost could be prohibitive if the employee has to pay completely out of pocket.” 

“Typically we’re seeing employers subsidizing up to 20 days of care a year. Employees usually pay about $6 per day, which is significantly less than what that care costs,” he said. The employers “get that back in spades – in productivity and reduced absenteeism.”

See also: Home Health Workers Face Growing Demand, Flat Pay

Universities have been at the forefront of offering backup elder care to employees, according to Gastfriend, but she and Kramer are seeing more and more participation from the finance, high-tech and even retail industries.

PNC Bank, which is based in Pittsburgh and operates in about 20 states, has had subsidized backup elder care for five years.

“It sets us apart,” said Sharon Cercone, vice president, manager of work/life strategies, and it improves productivity “when people don’t have to worry about an emergency situation” outside the workplace.

“Today, for example, we have an ice storm,” Cercone said, and “if my mom had a caretaker at her home who couldn’t come” to help as scheduled, a backup caregiver could temporarily take over. “It’s peace of mind for the employee.”

Elder care is one of the topics most frequently raised with the company’s Employee Assistance Program and “the reports we get of usage has increased steadily over the years,” Cercone said.

“There’s a really nice partnership between Bright Horizons (PNC’s elder care provider) and our EAP provider. That’s another value-added, if you already can take advantage and connect the vendors” so that they work together, she added.

Cercone described backup elder care as “extremely valuable … in terms of attracting recruits and keeping them here and increasing employee engagement. The return on investment is well worth it.”

Piedmont Healthcare, which has 11,000 employees at five hospitals and two large clinics in the Atlanta area, recently decided to add subsidized backup elder care to its roster of benefits.

“Atlanta has a lot of big players” in the health-care industry, said Virginia Kelley, director of benefits, and the new benefit helps Piedmont attract and retain good workers in a competitive, high-pressure industry.

“If we have one clinical person who is out, you can imagine the domino effect,” she said. Usually that means bringing in contract labor, which is more expensive, so she expects the benefit to save money as well as headaches.

And by offering backup care that is available to children, the elderly and the employees themselves, “it’s nice to be able to say everyone can truly use this,” Kelley added.

Any company that’s interested in adding backup elder care benefits should first take long look at its own workforce demographics, said Kramer, and design a program to meet those specific needs.

Some organizations survey their employees, he said, but a survey is less helpful for elder-care benefits than it is for child-care benefits because elder-care needs “typically takes a person by surprise. … An issue arises and they need to respond immediately. People don’t realize (there’s a problem) until it’s staring them in the face. It hits, with no preparation.”

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