Source Seniors Homes Early (and Effectively)

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By Paul Buitenhuis

A few years ago, I received a call that I had been dreading.  My sister was on the phone telling me that our mom, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, had wandered out of her home the previous evening.  This news triggered a significant change for us; we needed to find our mother a seniors care community in which to live.  I volunteered to help find housing that could accommodate someone with Alzheimer’s in an environment that we as a family could feel good about.

Thus began my journey into the world of seniors housing.  Two things made this search challenging.  First, like most of us, I knew nothing about seniors housing.  Second, I was working at a full time corporate job logging over 70 hours a week—no knowledge, no time and, as I came to learn, very few resources.

My story is not dissimilar to many out there. According to a recent Ipsos-Reid survey, only 36 per cent of Canadians have discussed housing and long-term care plans with their parents or in-laws.

The number of seniors is growing dramatically across the country and the impact on employees seeking to aid their aging parents in transition is considerable; anything that impacts life this greatly can definitely impact your workforce productivity. 

Statistics released by the BC Premier’s Council on Aging and Seniors Issues points to this growth. There are currently 588,100 seniors in our province. By 2031, the number of people over the age of 65 will have jumped to 1.3 million.  Jamie Marcellus, writing for Benefits Canada in July 2012, stated, “Increasingly, individuals face the challenge of balancing work responsibilities with providing care for an aging parent or loved one (or spending the time looking for care).” 

Unfortunately, few are ready to find seniors housing when that phone call does come.  As part of the leadership team, HR professionals need to be prepared with the tools and empathy to help employees with the challenges of housing aging parents.

This article will hopefully create some awareness of the issues by focusing on three major challenges facing employees with respect to housing their parents and provide potential solutions and resources available to HR professionals who can assist employees manage this life event.

It’s a Matter of Time
Research out of the US indicates that it takes approximately 130 hours of work to find a loved one appropriate seniors housing (research, phone calls, community visits, etc.).  Most sales staff at seniors communities work regular business hours plus weekends so most phone calls to find out details about seniors communities must be done during the week with site visits being done on the weekends. The reality is that the majority of this research and coordination needs to be done during business hours which directly impacts employers and businesses.

The Costs
The financial impact on a family placing a loved one into seniors housing can be significant. In BC, some seniors housing is provided by or funded through the Provincial Health Care system, but this system is stressed and many public communities have significant wait lists. There are also private pay seniors housing options for those who can afford it. Understanding a parent’s financial situation is key to  exploring available options. If an employee’s parents cannot afford seniors housing, some employees may be faced with an enormous financial stress.  This stress will undoubtedly materialize in the employee’s work environment.

The Emotional Journey
The most noticeable disruption is to an employee’s emotional stability.  Be aware that the employees dealing with this issue will require understanding and patience as they work their way through the process to a solution. Unfortunately, the need for seniors housing is usually triggered by a “catastrophic event” – a death of a spouse, a fall or a diagnosis of a health challenge throwing an employee and their family into an emotional whirlwind. 

HR Response
From a human resources perspective there are a number of solutions potentially already available to assist employees in this scenario.

  • Human resources practitioners must be aware of this growing issue and keep senior leaders in the organization informed about its potential effects on the work force. As a part of the management team, HR and other leaders will be challenged to create an environment of understanding and support for employees dealing with this situation.
  • Be prepared; do the research into where your employees can find resources (Provincial Health Care Authorities, local seniors communities, etc.).  Most communities have a seniors centre.  Visit this group and find out what resources they might have that can assist your employees and their parents.  This sort of support and understanding can go a long way to developing loyalty to your organization.
  • Explore the benefits of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Many include counseling sessions to deal with the emotional stresses resulting from a major family event, as well as access to legal advice on the specifics of wills and estates. It could also include financial advice and planning resources to better understand the options and implications of private pay and the public systems.
  • Offer information sessions on seniors housing to employees. By far the best way to manage a parent’s move from their home to a senior’s community is to have a plan in place before the need arises. For those HR professionals committed enough to either build the content and present on or hire a professional to present, they will find that the overall effect on employees and hence their work and productivity if they plan in advance will be significant.

Paul Buitenhuis is the president and founder of Next Habitat Advisors, a Vancouver based company focused on helping seniors and their families plan for and find appropriate private pay seniors housing.

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