By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published October 3, 2019
“There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”
~Rosalynn Carter, former First Lady
In an article in The Washington Post, reporter Jeff Stein writes that a great many families in Maine are being hammered by two colliding demographic forces—the explosive growth of the retirement population and a simultaneous decline in qualified caregivers. He interviewed Janet Flaherty, resident of Maine, and she told him about an alarming phone call from the agency that coordinated in-home care for her 82-year-old mother. Her mom’s personal caregiver took a higher paying job and the agency was not able to find a new caregiver due to a severe shortage of qualified healthcare workers that has crippled senior care facilities across the state.
The article says that, according to demographic experts, the disconnect between Maine’s aging population and its need for healthcare workers is expected to be mirrored in 27 more states by 2030.
Impact of senior population explosion
The 2010 census predicted that the number of seniors in the U.S. 65 years and older would grow by more than 40 million, approximately doubling between 2015 and 2050, while the older-than-85 population of 5.1 million will come close to tripling.
Georgia has the 11th fastest growing age 60 and up population and the 10th fastest growing age 85 and up population. Georgia’s 85 and up population will increase 306 percent by 2050, making it the fastest growing population segment in the state, according to the Georgia Division of Aging Services.
The crisis in Maine requires drastic action on the part of the families of the seniors who need full- or part-time care and can’t afford it or are unable to find experienced caregivers. Sons, daughters and grandchildren have had to abandon their jobs and become caregivers or add family caregiving as an unpaid second job in their lives. Not only do these families suffer financially, their current lifestyles may be dramatically altered.
Rapid growth of care facilities
If you drive around metro Atlanta and throughout Georgia, you will see a great many new senior residential facilities popping up in all neighborhoods. Some are equipped to handle all stages of senior care from independent living to minimal assisted living to full time physical and memory care while others specialize in one or two areas.
Just about every family will have an aging senior who will require some degree of in-home or institutional care, either by a family member or paid caregiver. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 40.4 million unpaid caregivers in the U.S. providing care for family members aged 65 and older, usually a parent or grandparent.
Some of the new facilities are rather expensive and beyond the financial resources of many seniors. This raises two issues. First, there is a need to develop affordable assisted living facilities. Second, there is also a strong need for all seniors to anticipate the possible need for some level of assisted care and begin to plan for where it might be provided, who will provide the care and how it will be paid for.
A message to the wise
As I was completing the draft of this column, I read a timely and highly relevant report in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that exposes the critical issue of elder abuse in some senior residential homes. The article states that nearly 20 percent of senior homes in Georgia have been cited for failing to have enough qualified caregivers on duty, which can lead to the potential for elder abuse. According to the article, the recruitment of qualified caregivers has become so challenging that some homes hire whomever they can get, even those whose employment history is not ideal. The shortage of qualified senior caregivers is already a reality in many senior homes.
If you haven’t already begun to investigate possible resources to use, if or when the need occurs, I urge you to start exploring senior care options available in Georgia. You can start by reviewing the Aging & Disability Resource Connection at www.georgiaadrc.com or call 1-866-552-4464.
We, as a society and church, can ill afford to suffer the consequences of inadequate senior care facilities, understaffing and elder abuse that is already beginning to happen in Georgia.
Mary Cohen contributed to this column. Bill Clarke, former business executive, teacher and senior citizen, emerged from his third retirement to serve as the associate director of professional development for the archdiocesan Office of Formation and Discipleship. To send your thoughts to Bill, email firstname.lastname@example.org.