Williamsburg, Va. – Four years after launching the “Caring For You, Caring For Me” program in Williamsburg and providing support to Virginians caring for older adults, Riverside Health System’s Center for Excellence in Aging and Lifelong Health (CEALH) received statewide recognition for the impact it has made on hundreds of program graduates and thousands of families across the Commonwealth.
CEALH placed first in the Commonwealth Council on Aging’s 2013 Best Practices Award Program.
“As we struggle to meet the challenges of serving a rapidly aging population during a time of budget cuts and growing demand, we need to share our best practices and applaud our successes,” according to the 19-member Council made up of Virginians from across the state, including 11 Governor appointed seats.
“The awards…echo the message to develop and support programs and services that assist older adults to age in the community.”
This year marked the seventh year the Commonwealth Council on Aging sponsored the Best Practices Award Program, which included monetary awards to top winners, funded by Dominion Power.
“Caregivers have an immeasurable impact on the lives of those they assist, but their hours are long and their work is hard,” said CEALH’s Christine Jensen. “Many put their own lives on hold to lift up someone close to them.”
Jensen, who earned her PhD in Human Development and Family Studies, is CEALH’s Director of Community and Health Services Research and manages the “Caring For You, Caring For Me” program. The program grew from an $80,000 Williamsburg Community Health Foundation grant and was modeled after the Rosalynn Carter Institute’s (RCI) program.
“Caregivers tend to put themselves last and their loved ones first,” Jensen said. “If they don’t care for themselves they won’t be there for that person.”
According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, more than 300 million people serve as caregivers in the U.S., with more than 7.8 million of them living and working in Virginia.
“Ten thousand people a day turn 65,” said Riverside’s Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer, Terris Kennedy, RN, PhD. “The older adult population is only going to increase, and we are living longer.”
Virginia caregivers provide 1.13 million hours of care per year at a value of $11.7 billion, according to Jensen. CEALH’s “Caring For You, Caring For Me” program runs for five weeks and costs roughly $1,800 to host.
“We have been fortunate to have grant funding and business sponsors financially support these costs in the past, but we continue to seek funding so that we can keep the cost to each caregiver to take the course very low,” Jensen said.
Caregivers, who pay $35 to enroll in the program, save the healthcare system nationwide an estimated $450 billion annually by keeping older adults in their homes and out of emergency rooms, among other benefits.
However, according to the 2013 Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures Report, people who care for loved ones with dementia cost the healthcare system $90 billion per year in poor physical and mental health.
“For every hour an unpaid or informal caregiver is not able to provide care, someone else, more likely a professional caregiver, must do this, costing the health system even more,” Jensen said. “We do know that caregivers who have the tools, resources and skills to deliver effective elder care are effectively able to delay nursing home placement for their loved one. And likely, this is saving us in terms of avoiding emergency room and urgent care visits.”
The 13th course of “Caring For You, Caring For Me” concludes on May 13, 2013, bringing the total number of caregiver graduates of the CEALH program to 209.
“Over four years, we have reached more than 5,000 older adults and caregivers across Virginia,” Jensen said. “One professional caregiver can impact 10 residents and 10 staff. When one family caregiver completes the course, it isn’t just that caregiver that benefits. It is the person they are caring for and likely other family members who observe and learn these new skills.”
Every time CEALH offers the program to the community, Jensen said, “I see how caregivers benefit and I see how they light up when they realize they are not alone.”