Easing aging: JH earns top marks for HR program

When Joyce Hoebing, an administrator in the Office of the Vice Dean of Education at the School of Medicine, was faced with moving an aging parent cross-country, she was surprised, she says, by the number of details that needed to be addressed. So she turned to the Office of Work, Life and Engagement.

"The WorkLife Office was extremely helpful in identifying the different components of helping my mother move, and in providing resources to comb through the ins and outs of the different types of assisted living facilities," she says. "They made great suggestions for helping us assess her support needs, even though we were thousands of miles away. I only wish I had contacted them earlier in the process."

The Johns Hopkins Aging Adult Services program, which is available to all benefits-eligible employees, includes individual consultations, resource referrals, temporary backup care, and workshops on aging adults. In 2012, Johns Hopkins was one of 17 companies recognized nationally for its workplace eldercare program in a study conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving for ReACT (Respect a Caregiver's Time).

"I am thrilled that Johns Hopkins has been recognized for its efforts to support the members of our community who are caring for aging family members," says Charlene Hayes, vice president for human resources. "Providing such assistance helps us retain our most valuable resource—our world-class faculty and staff."

A 2011 study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute found that the percentage of adult children providing personal care and/or financial assistance to a parent has more than tripled over the past 15 years, and that nearly 10 million adult children over the age of 50 now care for their parents. Employee caregivers reported in a 2010 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index that they had been unable to work an average of 6.6 workdays per year. The missed work amounts to 126 million workdays annually, costing the U.S. economy an estimated $25.2 billion in lost productivity.

The Johns Hopkins Aging Adult Services program, designed to help employees manage aging-related issues, includes three phases of planning and management: healthy aging, chronic illness, and crisis.

The first phase involves writing a will and advance medical directive, as well as determining a power of attorney—all aspects of estate planning. The chronic illness phase usually occurs when it becomes obvious that health or mental health issues will influence the aging adult's needs in later years; strokes, falls, or a string of unsafe events, for example, often create a crisis and the need for immediate planning and assistance.

"The goal is for employees to start planning for their aging family members or themselves when individuals are still healthy and time exists to explore options and make a plan," says Meg Stoltzfus, Lifespan Services manager in the Office of Work, Life and Engagement, who oversees the Aging Adult Services program. "Caregivers of individuals with chronic illness may find they need to explore their care options earlier than anticipated. Having the time to plan improves the outcomes."

Stoltzfus says that managing crises requires physical and emotional effort, which can unexpectedly impact employees' attendance and productivity, especially if no plan exists for moving along the care continuum for aging adults. "I often receive calls once the aging family member is ready for discharge from the hospital and needs to move to a rehabilitation facility. A quick decision needs to be made, and it's a difficult one for employees because they don't feel enough time exists to make the best choice."

In order to help employees manage aging adult issues during these three phases, the Office of Work, Life and Engagement provides a number of services. Stoltzfus, who has a graduate degree in counseling and a certificate in geriatric care management, provides free, confidential consultations. "Depending on the employee's needs, I might provide referrals to local resources or a full-time professional geriatric care manager. If short-term counseling might be useful, I refer the employee to the [Johns Hopkins] Faculty and Staff Assistance Program," she says.

In anticipation of crises with their aging family members, employees can register for temporary in-home backup care. Johns Hopkins partners with Parents in a Pinch to allow benefits-eligible employees to register for backup care for dependents, which is available at a reduced cost. With this benefit, a professionally screened and trained caregiver goes right to the home to take care of the temporary need, even if the family member lives in another state. 

The Office of Work, Life and Engagement also regularly offers lunchtime workshops related to aging adults, with a range of topics that includes advance medical directives, dementia, legal issues for families, the sandwich generation, and senior hoarding. Attendees report that they like receiving the practical advice, finding out about resources, and meeting others with similar concerns.

"Employees are not alone in their concerns for aging family members or themselves," Stoltzfus says. "Our consultation services, backup care program, and workshops can help employees plan ahead, which ultimately lessens the impact of caregiving while trying to meet professional demands and planning and saving for retirement."

For more information, go to hopkinsworklife.org/services/adult.html.