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COA of Middle Tennessee Releases Eldercare Report

Grace Smith

Agency Hopes to Spur More Employee Caregiver Support

In August, the Council on Aging (COA) of Middle Tennessee released "The Case for Caregiving: Why Middle Tennessee Employers Should Support Employee Caregivers."

The report was the culmination of an 18-month journey by the organization to better understand the impact of eldercare on employees and the needs of working caregivers. The research began as part of COA's participation in the Center for Nonprofit Management's Innovation Catalyst program and was conducted in partnership with Vanderbilt's Center for Quality Aging through a Community Engaged Research grant.

Scope of the Issue

According to the 2011 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, more than one in six Americans reported caring for an elderly or disabled family member while working. The 2017 Long Term Services and Support Scorecard ranked Tennessee 49th for support of family caregivers and 32nd for support of working caregivers.

The ongoing toll on productivity, turnover and costs faced by employers and caregivers is anticipated to increase over the coming years as 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 on a daily basis. Additional statistics from Pew Research, AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving underscore the magnitude of the issue with an estimated 40 million unpaid caregivers helping with adults 65 and over. Of that group, 61 percent work and nearly half work full time while spending an average of 24.4 hours per week providing care.

As an organization tasked with identifying and addressing unmet needs of seniors and their families, COA sought to better understand the impact of eldercare on both employers and caregivers. In conjunction with Vanderbilt, COA hosted caregiver focus groups to assess the benefits of the organization's available online tools and surveyed human resource and employer groups about supports for employees.

"Tennessee ranks near the bottom of the list for supporting working caregivers," said Grace Smith, COA's executive director. "While we knew elder caregiving in the workplace was an issue, it wasn't until we dug deeper that we understood the disconnect between the needs of working caregivers and benefits and support offered by employers."

Cost to Employers

A recent Harvard Business School study estimated employers lose $6.3 billion annually related to workplace disruptions tied to eldercare, and this figure doesn't count the billions spent to replace employees who leave to devote more time to care. With adults ages 45 to 64 being the most likely group to serve as a family caregiver, employers often find workers in mid-to-high levels of the organization are heavily impacted. If those employees leave, it causes an additional talent and knowledge drain for the employer.

For those employees who stay on the job, studies estimate a lost productivity amount of $2,110 per working caregiver per year. Additionally, healthcare costs are 8 percent higher for employees who serve as caregivers.

Mitigating the Costs

Citing the work of Harvard's Joseph Fuller and Manjari Raman, the COA report noted, "Despite 32 percent of employees departing the workplace to care for an older adult, fewer than 10 percent of employers offer eldercare benefits."

Yet, the report continued, the benefits to companies that support caregivers are demonstrable. "Research has shown that programs that support caregivers pay for themselves. A study funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation found that employers could anticipate a $3 to $13 return for every dollar spent on eldercare benefits. Additionally, for each eldercare benefit, businesses have reduced turnover intention by 5.9 percent."

Middle Tennessee Lessons

"The Council on Aging recognizes that most caregivers of older adults are working professionals often sandwiched between caring for aging parents and raising children. They're overwhelmed juggling work and family, and they need help figuring out options and next steps," said Smith.

Indeed, local caregivers who participated in the focus group outlined their top unmet needs as information, expert guidance on available options, emotional support and a caregiver-friendly workplace culture. The good news is the COA tools were deemed to be easy to use and informative. However, information was not reported on the general awareness level of the COA resources prior to participation in the focus group. The focus group members did suggest adding information to identify possible funding options to help cover the costs of care.

The human resources survey found 61 percent of respondents said they were aware of the eldercare/caregiving issue but that it wasn't a current priority, 15 percent said it was a top 10 priority, and 63 percent agreed it would become an increasingly important issue in the next five years. On the plus side, most employer respondents did indicate they have employee assistance programs (EAP), work/life programs, telecommuting options and flex time opportunities to help working caregivers.

Asked what they thought would help employers be more supportive to working caregivers, human resources professionals said:

  • Guidance for how to be a caregiver-friendly workplace,
  • Access to information for employees,
  • Online tools and links to resources, and
  • Printed materials and onsite education.

Based on the findings, COA said the organization has made it a priority to partner with employers to fill the gaps and increase awareness of existing resources. The organization was already hosting programs at some area employers and looks to expand upon that to address this community need.

"Whenever we offer on-site 'Lunch and Learns,' employees line up to talk with us about their particular situation. That's why as a trusted non-profit, we're committed to consulting with employers in Middle Tennessee and supporting employee caregivers by delivering on-site education, online tools and caregiver phone consultations," said Smith.

An advisory board has been assembled to help guide the development of additional tools to support employers and working caregivers. Smith added COA welcomed the opportunity to partner with physicians and other providers to connect patients and caregivers to much-needed resources.

"Healthcare providers are a vital link between older patients, family caregivers and community resources, yet they're often pressed for time," noted Smith. "An easy solution is to refer to the Council on Aging of Middle Tennessee for trusted information and help finding the most appropriate services and care options."

More information is available online at


Council on Aging of Middle Tennessee

Related Article on Simplifying Caregiver Resources in OBM Geriatrics:

Long Term Care Scorecard (2017)


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COA, Council on Aging Middle Tennessee, Eldercare, Employer Caregiver Support, Grace Smith, Working Caregivers
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