(Midvale, UT) Utah ranks 39th overall among the 50 states and the District of Columbia when it comes to meeting the long-term care needs of older residents, indicating more must be done, at an accelerated pace, to improve long-term supports and services in the state. This, according to a new, comprehensive state-by-state report, Raising Expectations 2014: A State Scorecard on Long-Term Services and Supports for Older Adults, People with Physical Disabilities, and Family Caregivers Scorecard from AARP with support of the nation’s leading organizations behind quality long-term care, The Commonwealth Fund and SCAN Foundation.
Of most concern is that Utah ranked 50th for its support of family caregivers, which is a composite indicator looking at legal supports and stress levels, among other factors. Today, unpaid family caregivers provide the bulk of care for older Utahns, in part because the cost of long-term care remains unaffordable for most middle income families. In Utah, 383,000 caregivers help their aging parents, spouses and other loved ones stay at home by providing assistance with bathing and dressing, transportation, finances, complex medical tasks like wound care and injections, and more. This translates to 365 million hours of unpaid care annually at an economic value of $4.2 billion. Thousands more provide intermittent care during the year.
“When it comes to helping older Utahns live in the setting of their choice, this silent army of family caregivers assumes the lion’s share of responsibility,” explains Alan Ormsby, State Director of AARP Utah which serves more than 212,000 members age 50+ in the state. “Many juggle full-time jobs with their caregiving duties; others provide 24/7 care for their loved ones. With every task they undertake, these family caregivers save the state money by keeping their loved ones out of costly nursing homes – most often paid for by Medicaid. They have earned some basic support.”
A joint resolution (H.J.R.14) on caregiving sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck did pass the Utah Legislature this past session, but it did not call for any specific measures to help caregivers. The resolution is a general statement to express support for state policies and programs that address the needs of caregivers. It calls on agencies to provide more information about how to care for older, vulnerable, or disabled adults. Utah needs to take action to improve legal and systems supports for caregivers to raise its ranking at the bottom of the states.
That’s why AARP Utah will be looking at several options for legislation to ease the burden that Utah caregivers now experience in the state, such as providing respite care to support family caregivers who may be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Utah also scores poorly in its number of legal and system supports for caregivers. This could be addressed by allowing caregivers to take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which gives workers time off to care for loved ones without fear of losing their jobs when they return, so that is another area of concern.
Another option may be a caregiver tax credit that would help caregivers who face financial challenges as they help their loved ones stay at home. Through a limited tax credit, states can help ease the burden of lost job hours for low-income caregivers in particular through a break on their state income taxes.
Many states are looking to support and provide training to caregivers with the Caregiver, Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act, which helps family caregivers when their loved ones go into the hospital and as they return home. Specifically, the CARE Act requires hospitals to:
- Record the name of the family caregiver when their loved one is admitted.
- Notify the family caregiver when their loved one is to be moved or discharged.
- Give instructions of the tasks the family caregiver will need to perform while caring for their loved one at home.
“This Scorecard gives us a snapshot of how well Utah serves our older residents, those with disabilities, and family caregivers – and shows us where we must sharpen our focus to better assist hardworking Utahns,” stated Ormsby. “Now is the time for policymakers to act. The vast majority of older Utahns want to live independently, at home, as they age. For most, they cannot do this without the help of unpaid family caregivers. This Scorecard shows we have more to do – and we don’t have time to stand idle.”
Long-term care (also called long-term services and supports) is a diverse set of services designed to help older people and those with disabilities; services can be provided in a person’s home, in a community setting such as an adult day center, or in a group residential facility like a nursing home.
The full state Scorecard, along with an interactive map of state rankings and information, is available at www.longtermscorecard.org.