Elder Care: What is the Employer’s Responsibility to Help Support Employees Who are Juggling it All?
Although I’ve shared a fair amount about me in my blog articles, this is more of a personal post than I typically do. I was going back through my 2020 calendar the other day and reflecting on my time spent this year. I counted the number of medical appointments that I took my mother to. It totaled 81. Yes, you read that right…eighty-one medically related appointments so far this year. All for a variety of things.
I left my CHRO job early last year. I worked for a large hospital system and I’ve often thought this year, as the U.S. has tried to handle a global pandemic, how would I have juggled my executive responsibilities and all of my mom’s needs had I stayed? At the time that I left my job, I was barely hanging on as it was. Having hit burnout myself, dealing with being the medical POA for my mother and all of her medical needs as she aged, I could no longer juggle the demands of my job along with the needs of my family and it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, so I threw in the towel on my corporate life and focused my attention on my family.
And thank goodness I did. She’s doing okay now, but her 4 ER visits, 3 hospitalizations, a stay in a rehab facility to recover from post-surgical repair of a fracture from a bad fall, and a dementia diagnosis the same week that her husband was put on hospice while he was in memory care has been a lot to deal with this year. She lived with us for several months early in the year when it became apparent she could not live alone, but she is now safely being cared for in a new apartment in assisted living. My step dad ultimately passed away in September…his end of life coming at the same time our County was on evacuation notice for wildfires. It has been a lot to deal with. But, thankfully none of us have been touched by COVID19 and we are all doing okay.
I wonder though…if I’d been trying to juggle a demanding full-time executive position and support a workforce of healthcare staff, how would I have handled it? I know the answer. I couldn’t have done it. I’m so grateful that I had the option to leave and take this time at home to focus on my family. I’ve tried to launch my business this year which will allow me the flexibility to work part-time or full-time as my time allows and work is available, have the time I need to care for my family, and still getting the professional satisfaction of contributing my knowledge to help other companies create great workplaces. It’s been difficult to do that in the midst of a pandemic, but I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to try and that I’ve had some success in spite of the numerous challenges.
In thinking about all of the obstacles I would have faced had I not decided to leave, it brings me to this question: What role do employers have in supporting employees who are juggling the demands of elder care? It’s a lot to take on. Sure, there is FMLA, but what is our obligation beyond that? What do we need to do to address the psychosocial needs of our workforce who still have kids at home, caregiving responsibilities and job responsibilities to attend to? Those demands aren’t going away and as people live longer and our workforce gets older, the need to juggle all of it will only compound. Employers will need to face this head on in a supportive way. I don’t have the answers to these questions, but having experienced the impact personally, I know I’d like to be part of the solution.
Back to the 81 medical appointments. In spite of the challenges that this year has brought, I’m actually grateful for those appointments and especially for those that have occurred since this summer when my mom moved from our home and into her assisted living apartment. Since COVID19 has put severe restrictions on visits for people in assisted living facilities, my ability to see her would be limited without the numerous medical appointments.
So, while I don’t love that she has so many of them for her sake, I am grateful that I get to put on my mask and go pick her up on average of one to two times per week, take her to her appointment, be with her throughout that time and then take her back to her home. It does give us time together in the car to visit and catch up in person. It’s more than many people who have relatives in these types of facilities get with their loved ones these days. And I’m also grateful to know she’s in a place where she’s getting wonderful, quality care and has loving care givers. Knowing she’s in good hands means everything to me.
During the drive to one of those 81 appointments recently, my mom shared with me she was sorting through some items in her home office and ran across an article that I’d written honoring her back in 2002. It was called My Hero: Mom and was published in the Ladies Home Journal. I had come in second place in an essay contest about Moms who were Heros. I had written about the care my mom gave to my sister when she was battling brain cancer. My mom commented on how much I had done to care for her this year and how she thought I deserved an award for it. I don’t see it that way. As hard as it is at times, I’m grateful to be able to do for her what she did for my sister. My response back to her was simply, “I learned from the best.”
Laurie is an experienced Human Resources executive who is passionate about organizational culture, creating great workplaces and employee engagement.