The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services put forth a national strategy – the first of its kind – to support millions of family caregivers and address the challenges they face when caring for people with developmental disabilities or other health issues.
The plan features 345 actions to help caregivers in the next three years, as well as more than 150 actions that can be used by federal, state and local governments, along with businesses and communities.
Some of the actions detailed in the national strategy are meant to address the lack of resources caregivers have when it comes to maintaining their health, well-being and financial security.
“Supporting family caregivers is an urgent public health issue, exacerbated by the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “This national strategy recognizes the critical role family caregivers play in a loved one’s life.”
According to the HHS, around 53 million family caregivers each year in the U.S. assist those who are aging or have a disability or chronic health condition. And 2.7 million grandparent caregivers support millions of children who cannot stay with their parents.
Officials from HHS note that millions of older adults and people with disabilities would not be able to live in their communities or homes without the help of caregivers. If replaced by paid caregivers, their services could cost an estimated $470 billion each year.
If replaced by paid caregivers, [family caregivers’] services could cost an estimated $470 billion each year.
“While family caregiving is rewarding, it can be challenging, and when caregivers do not have the support they need, their health, well-being and quality of life often suffer,” officials wrote.
In addition, officials claim their financial future can be put at risk because caregiving responsibilities cost an estimated $522 billion annually, which is “lost income” for families.
“When the challenges become overwhelming and family caregivers no longer can provide support, the people they care for often are left with no choices except moving to nursing homes and other institutions or to foster care—the cost of which is typically borne by taxpayers.”
The national strategy was developed over the course of six months, and the plan focuses on five main goals:
- Increase awareness and outreach
- Build partnerships and engagement with family caregivers
- Strengthen services and supports
- Ensure financial and workplace security
- Expand data, research and evidence-based practices
“Family caregivers play a vital role in supporting people with disabilities and older adults so they can live and thrive in their own homes and communities, and it is time that we take action to champion them,” Office for Civil Rights Director Melanie Fontes Rainer said in a statement. “The National Strategy to Support Family Caregivers is a concrete step toward making the right to community living a reality for all people.”
HHS states the national strategy will address issues caregivers claim to be the most important. These include:
- Access to respite services: AmeriCorps Seniors will offer caregivers professional short-term care to help them take a break.
- Support with day-to-day and complex medical tasks: Offices throughout the government will work with states to increase and strengthen the direct care workforce to help with caregiving tasks.
- Inclusion of caregivers in care teams: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will improve rules to include family caregivers in certain processes such as hospital discharge so transitions are smoother for all involved.
- Financial education on caregiving costs: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will increase the availability and use of financial education tools on how much long-term care costs so caregivers can be more prepared.
- Better identification of family caregivers: Departments across the government will begin to use the identification of family caregivers in electronic health records and state information systems and manage localized outreach to share information with caregivers about any support available.
- Research on the needs of family caregivers: Across the federal government, there will be interdepartmental efforts to research family caregiving to inform evidence-based policies, such as providing grants to colleges and universities with family service or gerontology programs to support options and meet family caregivers’ needs.
“The federal government has boldly detailed nearly 350 actions that agencies overseeing Medicare and Medicaid, Veterans Affairs, housing, labor and more will take over the next three years to support caregivers,” Terry Fulmer, president of The John A. Hartford Foundation, said in a statement. “Now is the time for all of us – states, communities, business leaders, researchers, nonprofits and philanthropies – to take action so that caregivers of older adults get the help they need and deserve. “
Other organizations share that the national plan is a meaningful change on behalf of family caregivers and is a step in the right direction.
“We commend the important work that went into developing the 2022 National Strategy to Support Family Caregivers,” Jennifer Olsen, chief executive officer at the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, said in a statement. “We will focus our efforts on advocating for effective implementation of the RAISE strategy, which will require proper funding, leadership and engagement across all sectors.”
Officials from HHS say the national strategy will be open for public comment for individuals and organizations starting on Oct. 1 and will be updated every two years going forward. Any changes will be based on public input, as well as continued work from advisory councils and communities, states and tribes, and federal agencies that are expanding, implementing and changing policies and programs to help family caregivers.