caregivers

 

As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s a good time to reflect on what – and who – makes us grateful. For some, it’s their caregivers – not just those in paid positions but their family and friends who help them with their daily activities and medical needs.

I think it’s fitting that the month of November is also National Caregiver’s Month. It’s something I think we can all relate to, whether we’ve received special care, witnessed an amazing caregiver help someone we love, or been a caregiver ourselves. The “face” of a caregiver is diverse. It’s not just the individual who takes care of an elderly, frail parent or grandparent. It’s the spouse who cares for his wife living with multiple sclerosis. It’s the neighbor who checks on a disabled vet. It’s a middle-aged parent caring for her 20-year-old child addicted to opioids.

But how often do we think of caregiving in the workplace?

At Humana, it may be easier to make that leap: Obviously, we are in the health care industry, and our focus is on finding ways to improve people’s lives by improving their health and well-being. Our internal culture supports this, and we vigilantly try to live our company values, which not only build a foundation for providing this care to those outside of our company but also within our company. I’ve always loved our name – HUMANA – with “human” at its root. It’s part of our identity – caregiving – and if we don’t take care of each other on the job each day, how can we be well, heartfelt and equipped to care for our members?

This means thinking of caregiving in a new light – one in which companies embrace the responsibility and opportunity to take care of their employees in a variety of ways, and one in which employees commit to taking care of each other so we can think, feel and do our best in both our personal and professional lives. They are interdependent.

I would challenge you as employers, as leaders, and as employees to keep this in mind when you come to work each day, when you shape policies and processes, and when you interact with your colleagues – your very human counterparts. In addition to asking about analytics reporting and sales figures, don’t forget to ask each other: How are you doing? What’s on your mind? Is something troubling you? Is there anything I can do to help? Just like you, your teammates require nurturing, guidance and friendship. In the end, it’s about people-focused awareness, proactive outreach, empathy and kindness.

The other thought that’s been floating around in my head is this: How can we do more — do better — in taking care of caregivers?

Here, I’m mostly referring to the more traditional family/friend caregiver role. How can we make changes that will have a true impact on the caregiver’s well-being?

Caregiving can take an immense toll on those who find themselves in that role – physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially. I can speak with some degree of authority, as I was a loving caregiver to my late wife, who suffered from and eventually succumbed to Hodgkin’s disease when we were in our early 30s. While caregiving can be a highly personal privilege, it can also wreak havoc on every aspect of one’s life, including relationships, work and other competing responsibilities. The role often requires countless hours of time and energy and a persistent strength to get through challenging times, all while trying to show a brave face and energetic spirit to those who require the care. After all, we tell ourselves, “they” have enough to deal with – ailing, recuperating or living through daily hardships from illness or injury. We must not add to the burden.

The challenge is growing, because the caregiver population is increasing each year. Current statistics indicate that we have more than 43 million unpaid caregivers in the United States. And the needs are becoming more complex; for example, the number of people with dementia is expected to triple by 2060.

At Humana, we’ve seen the trend, and we’re trying to help.

Internally, we allow two weeks of annual paid caregiver leave for our employees who need it, and we have an employee-led Caregiver Network Resource Group. We are also exploring ways to help our members and their caregivers and intend to offer new supplemental respite care benefits in some plans in select markets in 2019. We are proud to offer such resources and benefits to caregivers, and we will continue to search for new ways of helping this expanding group.

This month in particular, I encourage you to expand your definition and thinking around caregivers. Think of yourself as a caregiver in your workplace, even if you are not one in your home. And please do your part in lifting the awareness about caregivers – their many faces and their many needs – so we can all work together to grow a strong support system to take care of those in need. After all, we are all humans who need care … and we are all caregivers.

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“In the event of a loss of cabin pressure, be sure to put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others.”

You’ve heard some variation of these words if you’ve flown on a plane. It basically means you need to take care of yourself first before you can help anyone, or you’ll be of no help to anyone.

Yet it’s a concept that, unfortunately, is a challenge for providers and caregivers in health care. Many are working longer hours and have greater workloads. The increasing demands of increasing chronic conditions, the aging population and demands on daily lifestyle are making it harder for us to take care of ourselves.

When employees find that they are faced with new responsibilities of providing care to a family member or friend, things just get tougher. And with 10,000 baby boomers every day turning 65 and inching toward retirement, the American workforce is going to have its lack of time challenged even more by caregiving.

A second job

According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, “34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the last 12 months. And this recent article — “America Is Running Out of Family Caregivers, Just When It Needs Them Most” – details the challenges of the people who need care:

•   “Their (Americans reaching retirement) median incomes, including Social Security and retirement fund receipts, haven’t risen in years. They have high average debt, some incurred from taking care of their own aging parents. And if they’re counting on family to care for them, too, they may well find their families too small and far-flung to meet the task.”

Similarly, there is another group that is critical in addressing caregiving: the physicians and clinicians who deliver clinical aspects of care.

And are they putting their own oxygen masks on first?

Physicians and clinicians need more help

According to a recent study of nurses, “nearly all respondents (92 percent) had moderate, high or very high levels of work-related stress” and “69 percent of respondents reported no regular exercise.” On the physician front, it’s even more alarming. One study found that 90 percent of physicians were not willing to recommend their profession in health care.

The frustration and struggles voiced by physicians and clinicians could not come at a tougher time. Given the large number of people entering retirement, we simply won’t have enough physicians and clinicians to meet the needs of the exploding boomer population, within current care models. Even with promising technology and new care settings like in the home, covering the expected shortages of clinical talent will be a real stretch.

Physicians and clinicians are already struggling, and they need support now. And the first steps can be taken with employers.

Employers in the health and well-being space can help create a more positive future for physicians and clinicians. For example, at my company Humana, we’re focusing on building a culture where our physicians and clinicians can thrive – personally and professionally. We want to fully empower their efforts to have successful careers, make an impact in the lives of those served, and truly be supported in their own health and well-being journeys.

Today, we directly employ or have received direct support from approximately 8,200 clinicians (e.g., physicians, nurses and other clinical positions) who serve our 3.5 million Medicare Advantage members and others.

We also just finalized an ownership stake in Kindred at Home and Curo Health, who also employ thousands of nurses. Over the next few years, we expect clinical talent like physicians, nurses and pharmacists to become a very significant portion of our workforce.

Moving in the right direction

Employers like us who envision a renewed, world-class experience for clinical caregivers need to make it easier for physicians and clinicians to do their important work. Guided by listening and learning from the front lines, we’re focused on simplifying workflows and a new generation of care technology. Things that make it easier to provide care and clinical expertise also decrease added stress and help clinicians better fulfill their personal purpose: helping people. Professional growth opportunities that develop newly evolving skill sets and broaden learning are also helping prepare the workforce for the needs of the future.

The oxygen mask starts, however, with helping clinicians improve their own personal health and well-being. The American Heart Association has recognized our efforts in that area, and bestowed upon us the Workplace Health Achievement Index gold award. According to the AHA, our performance was assessed on the basis of evidence-based strategies and scientifically validated measures of health among 200 clinical companies and roughly 1,000 others.

Yet despite the success we have achieved this early in the game, we know it will take years to reach our goal. We also need to pay special attention to the roles that employees play as family caregivers. As an example, we’ve recently provided an additional benefit of two weeks of paid caregiver leave to our associates, and formed a network resource group where family caregivers can connect and share mutual support. It’s not easy for anyone to navigate today’s complex, disconnected health care system, especially given the lack of time and resources they have when it comes to their full-time jobs.

We’re at a critical time in health care. Everything must not rest solely on the backs of physicians and clinicians; employers need to ensure that their cultures support clinical talent where applicable and support employees who are called on to provide care. For the U.S. to retain its competitive advantage, we need to support and strengthen those who care for our loved ones.

 

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At Humana, one way we improve the health of our members is by finding our purpose together. Having a purpose in life and connecting with your local community increases well-being.

Humana Charity Crafters, a group of Humana members in Mesa, Ariz., meet twice a month to create hats and other crafts that benefit their community. By making hats for local cancer patients, the Charity Crafters connect to their sense of purpose and to each other, creating strong bonds and encouraging each other towards their best health.

Humana recently released its 2016-2017 Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Report, detailing our efforts to be a good corporate citizen. To bring our Healthy People, Healthy Planet, Healthy Performance pillars to life, we created a series of videos highlighting our CSR work to improve health and well-being.

In this video, the Humana Charity Crafters share the importance of finding their purpose, giving back to their community and connecting to each other.

We want to hear from you! What’s your healthy purpose? Post on social media, tagging Humana and telling us about your healthy purpose. And, please share this video showcasing the Humana Charity Crafters.

To learn more about Humana’s CSR efforts, read the 2016-2017 CSR Report.

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Bruce BroussardIn a series of LinkedIn Influencer blog posts, Humana President and CEO Bruce Broussard shares insights and ideas about the future of health care and discusses the importance of working together to improve the health-care system as well as our own health and well-being. His latest — Who are the forgotten soldiers of health care? — is reprinted below. To see all of his blog posts, click here.

If I were to ask you about the forgotten soldiers of health care, you might think about hard-working nurses and clinicians, or the ER staff that works diligently through the night. While these professions are absolutely critical to our nation’s health care system, my thoughts go closer to home, to family.

Think about how difficult it is to care for someone who is over 65 and needs assistance at home. Whether it’s managing multiple medications or monitoring blood-sugar levels, in-home care for an older person living with chronic conditions takes a team approach.

Primary care physicians can quarterback care and coordinate among specialists, and nurses can make sure care is efficient and consistent.

But beyond the traditional doctor/patient relationship, there is a forgotten soldier. This person is not a doctor or a nurse or a licensed care professional. Many times the person does not work in the health care industry. But they have the most unbreakable bond with the patient: They are family. That person is the caregiver.

And this was reinforced for me during a recent visit to Houston.

Meet “George”

While I was in Houston, I was fortunate enough to participate in an in-home visit with one of our members, “George.” I also met his wife, “Mary,” their daughter, “Beth,” and several members of George’s clinical team.

George is 71 years old and is in a Medicare Advantage PPO plan. He lives with multiple chronic conditions, including coronary artery disease and hypertension, and he has undergone a coronary artery bypass.

Living with these multiple chronic conditions is not easy for George, and it also takes a toll on Mary and Beth. Treating these conditions requires a holistic approach.

For example, Humana and our partners — physicians, nurses and clinical care experts — help care for George in a number of ways. He receives occupational therapy to strengthen his upper extremities and fine motor muscles, and physical therapy, primarily for his lower extremities and gross motor muscles. Under the direction of a care professional, George also receives support for personal care and activities of daily living, like feeding, showering, dressing, etc.

The Sit Down

Both George’s nurse and his therapist led the visit. His wife and daughter were there, too.

From the start, it was evident that the nurse and therapist had a strong, personal bond with George, Mary and Beth. The nurse and therapist, both of whom I could see were an unofficial extension of the family, understood the critical care and emotional support that Mary and Beth provided to George.

At the end of the 30-minute visit, I asked George what was most important about the care he received. He said he appreciated help from people with a positive attitude; he liked the quality of the interaction and not being “rushed;” and he noted the dependability of the team members, who always show up and follow through.

The care team benefitted too, enhancing their already deep, holistic understanding of George and reinforcing the bond of trust. It was clear to me that this care team – family and clinical – had been making a difference in George’s life, and that he was thankful.

The Importance of Caregivers

November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to recognize the critical care provided by approximately 43.5 million caregivers. Their work had an estimated economic value of $470 billion in unpaid services in 2013. And with the senior population growing, many of us are going to find ourselves in the shoes of Mary and Beth – as caregivers.

These forgotten soldiers of health care will help determine how well America copes with the rising tide of chronic conditions. I’m encouraged, having seen firsthand how Humana’s Caregivers Network Resource Group is providing resources for our employees caring for family members and other loved ones.

While George has a very strong clinical team and family support network, there are many members who are not as fortunate. They are socially isolated and don’t have family to turn to for care. Their children may live in different cities. They might not have close relatives or friends.

This is the challenge, and we must be prepared.

It’s only going to become more common

In the caregiving world, relationships matter. Technology can help, maybe by building caregiver networks to identify people who have the time to help. But it’s not going to change health.

Technology is not a substitute for trust between two people. Basic human interactions can’t be replaced with a robot, an app or some other form of technology. It’s the low-tech and human efforts that are most impactful.

Our front-line associates know they can have an impact on the health, well-being and experience of our members. They are in this together, and they know it takes a team built on trust, empathy and emotion to make life better.

Mary and Beth are the unsung heroes, the forgotten soldiers of health care. They have an amazing impact on the people they care for, and on our health care system. You may also get the call – as a wife, daughter, husband or son – to be a caregiver. We need to ensure that we’re all prepared to receive this call, and to act on it.

 

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Humana’s Nate Kvamme, Vice President of Wellness Solutions, has written about 5 Wellness Trends to Help Support Happier and Healthier Employees in U.S. News & World Report.

“The newly released 2017 Humana Wellness Trends Report uncovers the five trends that currently have the most impact on employees – both inside and outside the workplace,” he wrote. “Specifically, workers are getting older, more fatigued and increasingly worried about their finances while they rely on mindfulness and emerging technology to help them achieve their desired health.”

Nate wrote about how workplace wellness programs have evolved to help improve employee well-being, productivity and morale.

Read his article here.

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