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ELDER CARE

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As the baby boomers age, so do their parents. Sandwiched between the needs of their parents and their children, many two-career boomer households are stressed out and stretched for time, money, and piece of mind. Linda Kibunja is one of those who was finding it hard to cope. "I'm right in the middle," she says, "I have my mom at one end and my kids at the other end, and they're both pushing, and I'm in the middle -- it's very hard to balance." Linda is not alone. A study conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP found that 41% of caregivers are providing care both for children under 18 and elderly relatives or friends.

Janis Smith was caught in a similar bind 15 years ago when her mother had a stroke and she had to take over her affairs by becoming her legal guardian. The process was tough. She had to figure out how to juggle caring for both her children and her mother. According to Smith, "I didn't have any idea of what to do or how to do it, how to arrange for nursing home care, what to look for when I was visiting homes. I just really didn't know what I was doing, so it was trial and error and it took twice as long." But Janis doesn't have to do it all by herself anymore. Last fall she started using the services of an elder care specialist provided by her new employer, Fannie Mae.

The specialist Smith turned to was Fannie Mae's Eldercare Consultant, Lisa Yagoda. Yagoda says of her job, "Sometimes I think I become mom or dad, I become the information central, definitely sometimes a shoulder to cry on or a consultant on elder care, a place to go for advice." In 1999, Fannie Mae decided to help employees with their growing eldercare needs. Says Maria Johnson, Vice President of Diversity, "We did the survey in 1999 and that survey had over 500 employees, out of an employee base of about 3,800 employees. Seventy percent said that they had a need for elder care advice, either in the present or in the foreseeable future."

Maria Johnson has first-hand experience with the need for an eldercare consultant. Ms. Johnson is both a client and the manager of the program. Johnson has gotten help with arranging for the needs of her own mother, who is blind. She says, "Before the elder care program, I easily spent a couple hours a week on the phone dealing with issues related to my mother."

Linda Kibunja had a similar experience, "If the consultant was not here," she says, "I would have to take time off of work to look for facilities; I would have to call people, so it would take time away from the job." Ten of those who used Lisa Yogoda's services during the first 6 months said they would have had to quit without this program.

Maria Johnson also knows that ultimately Fannie Mae is saving money because losing those ten people would have been a loss for the company. "If you just use a real simple formula," she says "Say, $7,500 in hiring cost per employee, that's $75,000 -- our program costs are less than $100,000 -- so right off the bat in just the first 6 months, the program paid for itself."

American businesses lose between eleven and twenty-nine billion dollars annually in lost worker productivity due to the interference of eldercare responsibilities. In addition to Fannie Mae, corporations like AT&T and Ford Motor Co., together with the UAW, have also implemented programs to assist their employees with their care-giving responsibilities.

Jill Casner-Lotto, who works in the America Institute, says, "Increasingly, I think companies are seeing this as a bottom-line issue, and when they look at the lost productivity, the absenteeism, the turnover costs associated with elder care."

For employees trying to balance work and family, the financial impact can also be tremendous. According to the 1999 Metlife Juggling Act Study, people caring for aging friends or relatives lost an average of $659,000 over their lifetime. Says Casner-Lotto, "Taking off days, or weeks, from work equals lost wages ... It could also mean lost social-security contributions, lost pension contributions, not to mention the emotional stress that's associated with elder care."

Helping to ease stress associated with care giving is one of the things Fannie Mae's program has done for its employees. Lisa Yagoda believes she helps ease the stress that can come with suddenly becoming responsible for an elderly parent. She says, "Now that the program has been in place almost two years, people have a greater understanding of what elder care is and what is available to them, and more people are beginning to plan ahead. But for the most part people still usually come in when there's an incident, a medical crisis, a financial crisis, a fall, a hospitalization, and all of a sudden mom or dad have to be put in a nursing home."

Janis Smith knows how unexpected these things can be, she says. "I definitely didn't anticipate being my mother's guardian so early in life. It's just not something that you forecast."




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