Janet Martinez, center, and Kate Fitzgerald help their daughter with homework. Photo by Leah Nash.

Janet Martinez, center, and Kate Fitzgerald help their daughter with homework. Photo by Leah Nash.

By Dan Hortsch

Janet Martinez knows all about the “sandwich generation”—adults bringing up young children while also overseeing the care of aging, perhaps ailing, parents.

Except Martinez, 53, prefers another label she has heard: the “panini generation,” as in the sandwich toasted and pressed on a grill.

“My innards are getting squished out,” Martinez said, describing her multiple caregiving roles. “The emotional toll—that is where the tension lies.”

Given their responsibilities, Martinez and thousands of others looking after older relatives welcome whatever resources are available.

With that in mind, when the state Legislature begins a new session on Feb. 2, it’s expected to consider a Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act, in an effort to improve the lot of family caregivers and keep older Oregonians in their homes. A committee set up by the Legislature in 2013 is writing a report outlining the aims of such legislation.

As Martinez explained, caregiving for family members can get complicated. The Portland resident, a television film producer who left the industry six years ago with two Lifetime Channel movies among her credits, oversaw care for her late step­father, who had dementia.

Multigenerational bonds

Along with that burden, she and Kate Fitzgerald, 50, her partner of 28 years, cared for their daughter, now 10, when she developed brain cancer seven years ago. Before that, Martinez was diagnosed with breast cancer. She and her daughter are doing well today, but each feels the effects of rigorous treatment.

The three of them live with Martinez’s mother, Carmen, 92. While she doesn’t require full-time care, she adds an older person’s growing needs to the household. Through it all, Martinez said, her partner has been the bulwark for the family. “I am not in this alone.”

As life expectancy rises, these situations will become more common. “We’re not 70 the way our parents were 70,” Martinez said.

Oregon ranks third among the states in support for people needing long-term care, according to an AARP Public Policy Institute report. But a CARE Act is still needed, said Jerry Cohen, AARP Oregon state director.

About half of family caregivers nationwide perform medical or nursing tasks, including managing medications and administering intravenous fluids. Many report that they received little or no training in these duties.

According to a draft report by the caregiving committee, strategies should include better training by hospitals and rehab centers, respite support for caregivers, improved coordination of multiple services and an adequate supply of care­givers to meet consumer needs.

Another important issue legislators will face is the development of a savings system for Oregonians who lack a retirement plan at their workplace. Access to such a strategy is important because nearly half of state residents are not covered by private pensions or other retirement savings plans at work, Cohen said.

State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, who heads a task force that has examined savings possibilities, cited “a generational crisis” that “threatens to plunge seniors into poverty, disrupt entire families and impact our overall economy” unless savings rates improve.

The task force envisions a savings plan with a minimal employer role and automatic enrollment of workers, but with an opt-out clause. A state board would oversee the system.

The state needs to provide access to savings for women, minorities, part-time workers and low-income employees in general, the report says. One of the proposal’s goals is to make the program easy for owners of small businesses who have not had the resources to implement retirement plans.

As issues arise during the legislative session, AARP Oregon will rely on volunteers like Martinez. In addition to her family duties, she helps identify other members interested in sharing their stories, whether about caregiving, retirement issues or other topics of importance to those 50 and older.

Oregonians interested in volunteering with AARP can send an email to oraarp@aarp.org.

Dan Hortsch is a writer living in Portland.