Nonprofit Spotlight | Caregiving: A challenging community issue
An issue that healthcare professionals and financial and legal professionals are aware of, and that you may be thinking about because it will probably affect you is the role we play as a caregiver. It may be one of the most pervasive and personal of life issues. How do we respond during that time when a friend or family member can no longer provide for themselves? Sometimes people need care their whole life, and most of us need help as we age.
The Community Foundation of Western Nevada was loosely aware of this issue as are most of us, but thanks to a request for consideration as a community initiative submitted by Grady Tarbutton, retired director of Senior Services in Washoe County, we learned just how challenging this issue could be. Before we embarked on the initiative, we investigated its relevance to the community. What we learned during that process was astounding.
There are over 91,000 residents over the age of 60 in Washoe County, making up 20 percent of the county’s total population. Per the 2013 survey of Washoe County Seniors, 9 percent of those ages 60 and over serve as an unpaid family caregiver by assisting with bathing, dressing, toileting, medication administration, and other personal needs. Based on this study, approximately 8,200 seniors are unpaid caregivers to a loved one.
Being a caregiver is not as simple as taking care of someone. It affects whole lives. Frequently the caregiver’s economic situation means they must work outside the home. This work/home conflict puts them in a stressful situation. Caregivers have strong emotional connections with the person they are caring for. Often that person is and has been their rock, their companion, or a beloved parent, who now can’t communicate with them at the same level, who no longer can be of any support to them. Life can be devastating.
As you drive around town, some of the seemingly empty houses are filled with people who are fighting a battle, financially, emotionally, physically, to live life as well as they can, and to take care of a family member who desperately needs their help. Caregivers face significant social isolation, stress, and fatigue. They frequently have difficulty finding, understanding, and managing the complex array of services that support seniors in the home. We have learned that regardless of assets or preplanning, we simply can’t anticipate the challenges we will face in trying to maintain a quality of life for ourselves when we become a caregiver. It will happen to most of us.
The Community Foundation has conducted two public convenings on this issue. The initiative process is about gathering people most affected, in this case, caregivers themselves. We listen to them talk about their experiences, their challenges, and their wisdom gleaned from experience. Then we relate that information back to our community to see what can be done to make their lives, and the lives of future caregivers, better. We have collected reams of information about the situation and are glad to have discovered so many concrete things we can do to make a difference. I am pleased to share some of the action steps identified to improve the lives of caregivers.
Community Foundation initiatives are not about developing a plan, but about identifying action steps and then moving forward with them as we go. The work on the caregiver initiative has made it clear that this approach will work well. Our first action is to set up a Listserve so people can connect with fellow caregivers and get their questions answered by others in their situation. We have hundreds of caregiver emails already and emails for health care professionals, service providers, legal and financial resources. On the Listserve, any caregiver can ask a question, which we will filter, then everyone on the Listserve will receive the question and can respond directly to the caregiver with advice. We can set this up quickly and we will.
A Guidebook for Caregivers distributed widely throughout the community is another action step. The guidebook will include a “quick start guide” of the things caregivers should address first, then more comprehensive information to help them navigate resources in the community. The resources themselves are too many to include in any booklet.
As our third planned action, we will build a comprehensive online searchable directory to contain the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of resources already available. A one-stop guide will lessen the confusion and make services easier to find. We will share all information with 211 so they can update their resources as well.
We expect to have these resources available in 2017. Initiative participants will continue to refine them and to work on making them widely-known and available, for years to come.
I am grateful to Grady Tarbutton for bringing this issue to the forefront. Washoe County is one of the fastest-aging communities in the United States, and Nevada is projected to be the third fastest-aging state by 2050.
As with much of the work we do at the Community Foundation of Western Nevada, The Caregiver Initiative is not well known. Most our work and funding happen at a quasi-private level, not intentionally, but we simply don’t do as much marketing as we should. This column is one way we are getting the word out.
I invite you to get involved. Make your philanthropy, including your time, treasure, and your connections part of a legacy of community improvement. The Community Foundation is a platform for people to come together to build collective impact. Whether you are interested in personal involvement, or the engagement of your company in meaningful philanthropy and community leadership, the Community Foundation can help. Learn more by contacting the Community Foundation at 775-333-5499 or nevadafund.org.
Chris Askin is the president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Western Nevada.