Kay Ivey announces Alabama team picked for learning lab on helping family caregivers of older adults

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Officials from three Cabinet agencies and the Alabama House of Representatives’ Speaker Mac McCutcheon will take part in a learning lab aimed at helping states support family caregivers of older adults, Gov. Kay Ivey announced on Friday.

The state’s four-person team — which includes McCutcheon, Alabama Department of Senior Services Director of the Alabama Caregiver Program Traci Dunklin, the Alabama Department of Human Resources Adult Protective Services Director Sam Smith and the Alabama Medicaid Director of Long Term Care Healthcare Reform Ginger Wettingfeld — will discuss ways to start or improve programs to support family caregivers, in meetings and conference calls in a learning lab called learning lab led by Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS) called Helping States Support Families Caring for an Aging America.

“I’m honored Alabama was one of the five states chosen for this CHCS program, and I appreciate this team for their willingness to participate,” Ivey said. “Many caregivers do all they can to take care of their loved ones, but they don’t always have the knowledge, time or resources to provide the best care. This program will allow our team to gain valuable insight and to develop viable options to better support family caregivers.”

McCutcheon said Alabama is not alone in facing caregiver challenges.

Alabama, along with teams from Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Virginia, will work together in the 18-month program.

“Alabama is not alone in facing the challenges of caring for our aging population,’’ explained McCutcheon. “The caregiver initiative was created to allow states to work together to find solutions through policy interventions and programs, thereby helping individuals receive better care and services to improve their quality of life.”

State teams will get technical assistance from CHCS officials and from other experts on developing strategies to support family caregivers.

Activities that states could pursue include:

  • Training family caregivers on topics such as chronic disease, managing medication regimens and gaining access to community resources.
  • Expanding access to respite and adult day care, services that let caregivers take breaks, to help reduce stress and prevent burnout.

 “We hope to learn from other states about how we can better serve our caregivers. Family caregivers provide more long-term care in our country than any other group, by far,” said Alabama team member Dunklin.

Fellow team member Smith said the group hopes to learn “to better serve caregivers and encourage further policy action to provide much needed services and supports.”

CHCS officials said that nearly 17 million Americans provide care for an older parent, spouse, friend or neighbor.

Medicaid agencies are primary payers for long-term care services that support older, low-income adults, CHCS officials said, but many state health-care and social-service systems are not fully prepared to meet the needs of this growing population and their families. Family caregivers can be part of the solution, CHCS officials said, adding that although a few states have created wide-reaching policies to support these family caregivers, most states have not made a significant investment in this critical support network.

“The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to nearly double by 2060, rising from 15 percent to nearly a quarter of the U.S. population,” Director of Integrated Care at CHCS Michelle Herman Soper said. “Providing caregivers with the skills and supports to effectively care for their family members will not only improve the lives of older adults, but also may reduce health care spending by allowing them to continue to live in their homes, rather than an institutional setting, for as long as possible.’’

At the conclusion of this learning lab, CHCS will evaluate each of the state’s findings and share them with stakeholders across the country.

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