By Nancy Johnson
At Patty Thornton’s home, everything revolves around her mom, Mary Hosinski. “We call her the queen,” Thornton said.
Nine years ago, Hosinski, now 93, suffered a stroke that left her unable to speak and made walking difficult. Faced with the prospect of putting her mom into a nursing home, Thornton, 65, moved her mother into her own South Bend house. Since then, Thornton and her husband, Chris, 63, have reorganized their jobs—as an exercise instructor and communications specialist, respectively—so that one of them is always home to take care of Hosinski.
Among other changes Thornton made to accommodate her mom was a complete nutritional makeover. All meals meet Hosinski’s needs for low-fat, nondairy, easy-to-swallow foods. “We eat what she eats,” Thornton said. They also installed rails on their back steps.
Thornton chuckled as she considered the demands on the household: “Many of my friends are empty-nesters and have more freedom, but since my mother needs constant care, it’s like being a young mom all over again.”
Recognizing ‘a cost and burden’
Unpaid family caregivers like the Thorntons are the focus of a bill that would recognize their efforts. State Rep. Suzanne Crouch (R-Evansville) is preparing to introduce legislation in the General Assembly in January that would offer a tax credit for eligible family caregivers.
Taxpayers who qualify would receive a tax credit for expenses such as medical supplies or transportation used in providing care to a frail family member (not a spouse) who shares the same home. There is likely to be an eligibility cap on the income of the dependent family member.
Crouch sponsored a similar bill last year that did not get a hearing, but she expects her new proposal to receive attention in 2014.
The bill “is to recognize that there is a cost and burden for those who provide care to loved ones in the home,” Crouch said. She wrote the bill after her mother became ill and moved into Crouch’s home for 15 months.
Crouch realized that as boomers and their parents age, “we may be taking parents into the home, and we don’t want to put them in a nursing home.”
More than 1.3 million Hoosiers provided unpaid care for a loved one in 2009, according to an AARP Public Policy Institute report. The economic value of that care was $9.4 billion—four times greater than government spending on long-term care services and supports in Indiana.
The report also noted that 42 percent of caregivers nationwide spend more than $5,000 a year on caregiving expenses. It cites a survey of women that found that 21 percent say caregiving strains their household finances.
“We found that one in three AARP members in Indiana is providing caregiving for family members or has done it in the last five years,” said June Lyle, AARP Indiana state director, who is working with Crouch and other legislators on the bill.
“There are state programs that help low-income folks with caregiving, but we are very worried about middle-income caregivers and wanted to find some way to give them a little bit of extra help,” she said, referring to the state-funded CHOICE program and to Medicaid-funded home- and community-based services for low-income people who need long-term care.
“Anything the state can do to shore up these family caregivers is something we think is worth supporting,” Lyle added.
Thornton agreed. “I think it’s an awesome bill. I hope it passes.”
Nancy Johnson is a freelance writer based in South Bend.