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Why employers need to implement eldercare programs

By Susan Hyatt


The population is aging and that brings all kinds of consequences. It impacts families, their financial resources, the healthcare system and the workforce.

While individual families try to cope with reality, a great many of them are struggling with how to care for elderly family members. Trying to find work-life balance is never easy, but add eldercare into the mix, and many lose their balance.

Employers are also struggling. Eldercare issues are now touching many workplaces. It could be a mid-afternoon phone call asking a daughter to take her 90-year-old mother to Emergency after a fall or a busy executive suddenly facing the prospect of several weeks off work so she can care for a father suffering from dementia.

But time is running out for employers, big and small. The fact is precious few employers have any eldercare programs in place.

The September 2017 article “The Workforce Implications of Eldercare” cited statistics about the rising number of caregivers – many of whom hold full-time jobs, not to mention the hours they take off work – and costs for looking after elderly parents. Maybe the most surprising stat was that a person caring for an elderly parent in Ontario can expect to devote an average of six and a half years to this effort.

Employers, CEOs and senior management must do more than think about eldercare policies, they must work quickly to implement them. Many employees are struggling with eldercare responsibilities and not getting the support they need at work.

The Ontario Long Term Care Association (OLTCA) is the largest association of long-term care providers in Canada. Some 625 homes are licensed and approved to operate in Ontario with 58 per cent of them privately owned, 24 per cent run as not-for-profit homes and 16 per cent municipally run. In a report from February 2018, OLTCA said the number of people currently on the wait list for long-stay beds was almost 34,000, with the demand for beds accelerating about 15 per cent a year. The fact is, there is a huge demand for long-term care beds and few beds available to fill that need, so families are left with few options.

In Ontario, long-term care is regulated and funded by the provincial government. Government agencies known as Local Health Integration Networks are the gatekeepers who determine eligibility for admission and they also manage the waiting list of almost 34,000 people. The waitlist is close to five years and it’s going to get worse as demand grows.

The federal government recently announced a new portfolio in the Cabinet – Minister of Seniors – and the first person to occupy that position is MP Filomena Tassi, a woman with an 89-year-old mother. It is a good thing if the minister handling such a portfolio can bring valuable personal experience to the table, and the same goes with employers.

Employers, or anyone in charge of human resource strategies, must recognize the current reality of eldercare implications in the workplace and how this might position their organization and their people for a crisis.

Today the term “caregiver fatigue” is rearing its head with increasing frequency. It means many people in the workforce are worn out and burnt out before they even get to the office. CEOs need to recognize that this problem isn’t going away. Having good eldercare programs in place for a workforce is not just a good idea, but a strategic business issue.

The first thing is educating senior management, HR staff and employees about the realities of eldercare. There is a common misconception in Canada that anything involving healthcare is covered. This is simply not true, especially with eldercare. The costs of providing appropriate care for an elderly person in need can be exorbitant; it can take a dent out of retirement or estate plans, and even lead to financial ruin.

Likewise, an organization, perhaps a small business, can be under threat if two or three key people have eldercare issues and all of them take time off simultaneously.

Being prepared means understanding the financial realities and time commitments one may face, and much of the latter will involve research and navigating the system. Unless you have unlimited time and resources, you are going to need expert help to find and cost out viable options for care. The organization with a program in place to assist its people will be ahead of the game, but not having one can lead to a loss in productivity while employees scramble for solutions.

Next, inform your workforce about available resources. An excellent website is It is a source of valuable articles and blogs and can help explain such things as Power of Attorney and what an Executor does. Consider having some hands-on education sessions from an expert service that specializes in planning or coordinating eldercare services.

Finally, underscore the necessity of planning ahead for eldercare transitions. We all plan for retirement and for annual vacations, so why not plan for eldercare? No one lives forever and at some point, people will be asked to help an elderly family member. Giving people tools to plan ahead allows employees to keep their focus on work-life balance. With no plan and an emergency-room doctor on the phone, it is hard to keep that balance when crisis strikes.

Susan Hyatt is CEO and co-founder of Silver Sherpa Inc.



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