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AARP FL Calls for Family Caregiver Support

For the past eight years, Kip Corriveau and his wife have been the primary caregivers for his 88-year-old father-in-law, who suffers from dementia and cannot care for himself.

They didn’t want to place him in an assisted living facility, worried about the care he would receive. So, he moved in with them.

It’s not easy.

“When you’re caring for a loved one in your home it's 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” says Corriveau, 57, who lives In Palm Harbor. “With someone who has dementia, there’s no day off.”

So, they pay for a private health care worker to help out 20-25 hours a week so they can get a break. It’s really not enough but it’s all they can afford.

Corriveau and his wife are among the 2.7 million Floridians caring for a loved one. A recent AARP study found that such family caregiving in Florida is worth $40 billion a year, a $9 billion increase in unpaid care since the last report in 2019.

Nationwide, family members provide $600 billion in unpaid care annually, a $130 billion increase. That figure is based on about 38 million caregivers providing an average of 18 hours of care per week for a total of 36 billion hours of care, according to the report, titled Valuing the Invaluable.

As the Florida Legislature prepares for its 60-day annual session that begins Jan. 9, increased support for family caregivers is an important part of AARP’s advocacy agenda. AARP Florida favors increasing state funding for home and community-based services, as well as the development and implementation of state-level strategies to support family caregivers.

Nationally, AARP wants to turn the National Strategy to Support Family Caregivers that was given to Congress last year, into tangible help for family caregivers.

AARP has a plethora of information and resources about family caregiving here.

Corriveau has a unique perspective on the issue. Not only is he a family caregiver himself; he is also director of senior and caregiver services for 211 Tampa Bay Cares, a non-profit organization serving Pinellas and Hernando counties which helps connect families with resources to care for a loved one. Before that he worked for a large long-term care company. And he’s an AARP volunteer advocate, sharing his story with the hope of persuading lawmakers to increase state support for home-based care for people 50 and older.

His father-in-law grew up in Lebanon, moving to the United States more than 50 years ago. He owned a beverage store until his dementia prevented him from working. His condition has slowly worsened, and he has lost the ability to communicate in English, reverting to his native Arabic – when he speaks at all. Finding an Arabic-speaking healthcare worker was not easy.

And it’s costly.

The best thing the Legislature could do, Corriveau says, is increase funding for respite care and community-based care to ease the physical and emotional and financial strain on family caregivers like himself.

When he meets with legislators to discuss the issue, he says, “my message to the legislators is that caregivers are not just helping their loved ones. They are actually providing a benefit to the community.” That’s because the cost to taxpayers would be so much greater if everyone being cared for by family members were put in long-term care facilities. “We’re providing hundreds of thousands of dollars of uncompensated care the state would have to pay if we weren’t doing it,” he says. “We’re actually saving the state Medicaid dollars.”

Florida ranks 43rd in the U.S. in providing long-term care for its most vulnerable population, which is actually an improvement after ranking dead last, a recent AARP report found. The report concluded that Florida is falling behind most states in efforts to improve care options for older adults, including affordability and access to long-term services.

With so many pressing problems in Florida, Corriveau says, “The challenge is I don't know that we’re going to solve the problem. We have tens of thousands of people on the waitlist for home and community-based services.”

With 2.7 million Floridians providing so much uncompensated care, the challenge is indeed great. “Caregiving is isolating,” Corriveau says. “It consumes all your time and energy. You don't have that time for friendships or relationships, and if you’re still trying to work that makes it an even bigger challenge.”

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