Spokane Journal of Business

Elder-care service seeks to enhance awareness

Comfort Keepers offering workplace sessions to help adults take care of parents

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A large number of U.S. workerssome estimates say 15 percent or morecare for an older relative while holding down a job and juggling other family responsibilities and social activities.

That kind of balancing act can leave an employee stretched pretty thin, and can alter how he or she performs at work, says Lisa Markham, co-owner of a Comfort Keepers franchise here, which provides nonmedical, in-home care to seniors.

Comfort Keepers is launching a free service for employers here in which it plans to provide presentations at workplaces, centered on issues related to caring for an elderly person. Markham says she plans to make presentations on some of the issues herself, covering basic advice. In other cases, she says shed invite in experts, including attorneys, financial planners, and insurance company representatives, to discuss issues such as long-term care insurance and reverse mortgages.

The seminars would get the companys name out to potential customers, but also could help increase employers awareness of elder-care issues, Markham says.

Comfort Keepers has discussed the concept with several large employers here, but hasnt begun offering the seminars yet, she says. Its a strategy that Comfort Keepers Spokane office conceived of, and one that could be copied by other franchises if its successful, she adds.

There are a lot of things out there that people dont know about, Markham says.

She says that caring for older relatives already is a workplace issue and will become an even bigger one in the future, as baby boomers age.

Its not a matter of whether employers will need to address elder care in the workplaceits a matter of how they will address it, she says.

A study published last summer, for example, found that more than three-fourths of employees who were caring for an older relative had arrived for work late or left early because of their care-giving responsibilities. About a quarter of that group had considered changing jobs because of their role as a care giver, and 38 percent of the men and 27 percent of the women had been forced to modify their work travel for the same reason.

The findings were contained in a study conducted by the Bethesda, Md.-based National Alliance for Caregiving and Towson University, of Towson, Md., on behalf of the Mature Market Institute, an information and resource center operated by insurer MetLife Inc. The study canvassed employees at three unnamed Fortune 500 companies who said they were caring for an older relative.

Despite the number of employees who are affected by the issue of elder care, caring for a parent still is not a widely understood or accepted role in the workplace, Markham asserts.

Employees may feel comfortable saying My childs sick, but they wont necessarily feel comfortable saying, I need to go home early because I received a call from the adult family home where my parents stay, she says.

Indeed, the MetLife study found that fewer than half of the men surveyed who care for an older relative had told their coworkers or a supervisor about that role. Women were more forthcoming, with 62 percent having discussed their care-giver role with coworkers and 56 percent talking about it with their supervisors.

Markham and her husband, Craig Markham, own one Comfort Keepers franchise here, and Lisa Markhams parents, Dave and Karen Schreffler, own another. The two franchises, which opened about two years ago, are operated as one business that covers all of Spokane county, Markham says.

Comfort Keepers employs aides who perform a range of nonmedical services for clients, ranging from pure companionship to a few hours of light housekeeping a week to round-the-clock help with bathing, dressing, and eating. The services can be provided in a persons home or in an institutional-care setting.

Sometimes, adult children employ Comfort Keepers to lighten the load of caring for a parent, she says. In other cases, the older person hires the company to perform tasks that he or she cant do, she says.

Comfort Keepers charges $13.75 an hour to $17.67 an hour depending on the services required, Markham says. The company uses background checks, such as driving, credit, and criminal records, to screen its employees, she says.

Currently, the two Comfort Keepers franchises in Spokane together employ about 40 aides, but the companies decline to say how many clients they serve.

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