The Hidden Crisis

As Many as 60 Percent of Our Staff Over Age 30 Are Juggling Work and Elder Care and Other Care Giving Duties

by Marie Felde

"This is going to sound like a soap opera," she said. But the tug in her voice as she relayed her dual struggle to care for her dying mother and her adult handicapped brother made it all too real.

A 59-year-old long-time campus employee, she is among the many who have come face-to-face with the emerging issue of elder care.

"My co-workers were very supportive and I had a lot of sick leave and vacation time built up, but even with help from a health care worker, I don't think you really understand the amount of time and the drain on your physical resources" that the caring for adult dependents requires, said the employee, who preferred her name not be used.

To get a fuller picture of the needs of campus staff and faculty who must reconcile the conflicts between work and caring for adult children, parents or friends, a survey was undertaken by the Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Dependent Care, whose members included Professor Andrew Scharlach.

It found an estimated 63 percent of faculty and staff who are 30 years old or older either are currently involved in caring for an ill or disabled family member or friend, have done so in the past five years or expect to do so in the next five years.

The survey was conducted by the committee with the assistance of Scharlach, a professor with the School of Social Welfare and a nationally recognized authority on elder care, who volunteered his time and expertise to assist the campus. The study was funded by Chancellor Tien.

"It is generally a hidden issue," said Scharlach recently. He noted that despite the stereotype, very few adults are in nursing homes with two-thirds living in the community helped by family and friends.

"Now, with everyone in the work force, there is no one at home to provide care" and it falls to those who must provide needed care to loved ones (to do so) between work hours, he said.

"In the survey we found people providing assistance in every waking hour to someone taking mom to the doctor now and again," he said.

One surprise, said Scharlach, was the number of people here providing assistance to someone younger than 65, as well as the number of workers who care for someone other than a parent, child or spouse.

Based on the survey findings, 23 recommendations have been developed. They range from expanding the university's definition of family to exploring flexible work arrangements and helping faculty and staff find services, said committee co-chair Carol Hoffman.

In general, what is needed here is no different from elsewhere--working caregivers need time, flexibility and support, said Hoffman.

"We are looking at issues that affect an employee's ability to be productive at work," said committee member Ella Wheaton, who added that for many people, caring for parents or loved ones is what they think they are supposed to do, so they feel guilty even bringing it up as an issue.

Although tight financial times will likely mean some of the recommendations will take time to implement, one quick step can be taken. "Just getting the word out so people don't think they are alone and that the challenges facing them are recognized" will be helpful to many on campus, said Hoffman.


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