Innovative benefits program supports UHN employees caring for aging parents

“Jose has been a God-send” says Colleen Simpson, a research associate in the Department of Otolaryngology at Princess Margaret Hospital. Simpson is referring to Jose Medeiros, VHA Home HealthCare’s Manager of Private Services and an experienced social worker of over 20 years who recently helped co-ordinate personal support services for her father at his home in Oshawa.

Simpson is part of what is sometimes referred to as the “sandwich generation—“ a generation often feeling the pressures that come with raising children while caring for aging parents and juggling the demands of a career. “It’s a constant worry,” says Simpson. “Because my dad lives alone, there’s always an element of fear. Did he eat today? Is he feeling well enough to take a walk today? Did he take his pills? It’s a constant flurry of questions that go through your head when you’re a caregiver of an elderly parent”. If this scenario has a familiar ring to it, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. In some cases, there are other complicating factors – factors like shift work, children with special needs, more than one aging parent requiring support, and even distance.

For Simpson who lives in Mississauga and works in downtown Toronto, travelling to and from Oshawa to assist her father herself, isn’t always possible. At 75 years of age, and with a number of health conditions that require monitoring by his family physician, her father was initially reluctant to have someone come into his home to provide home support and assist with his laundry. “At first he didn’t like the idea,” says Simpson. “It’s a change, of course. But once something is in place, my dad is usually okay with things”. Simpson’s father now realizes that support services are key to helping him remain independent. At her end, Simpson is comforted by the fact that her father’s needs are being met and can be re-evaluated as needed.

In 2008, recognizing that Simpson’s scenario is common to a lot of the University Health Network’s (UHN’s) 12,000 employees, many of whom are caregivers at work and at home, Vinny Chibba, Director of Human Resources at UHN, put out a call for proposals from home health care providers, ultimately selecting VHA and working with them to develop a preferred provider program for UHN staff. “We realized we could do more to support our employees in the area of elder care and as a result, proceeded to meet with several service providers. VHA Home HealthCare was the right choice. They are not-for-profit and have been around for years and years,” says Chibba, who believes the program is a wonderful support for staff.

Launched in 2008 and now part of UHN’s Added Value Benefits Program, UHN staff have special access to VHA’s comprehensive Elder Care Program – including nursing, rehabilitation, and personal and home support services to help ensure aging parents receive the support they require to live independently. With this innovative employee benefit, staff can access a multitude of services from a single agency, all of which can be accessed and co-ordinated quickly – and come at a reduced rate. What this really means is that one call to VHA can put helpful support services into place quickly, saving UHN employees the time and hassle of researching, contacting, explaining and navigating what can be an overwhelming system at an already stressful time.

Sometimes care in the home is required only short term – such as when recovering from surgery, an illness or accident. In other cases, coping with disability, chronic illness or managing mental health issues or advancing frailty, requires more regular support or care. “We encourage clients to make contact with their Community Care Access Centre (CCAC) first,” says Cheryl Perera, Director, New Ventures & Community Programs at VHA. “This helps to ensure they secure any services they may be eligible for at no cost to them – and we can then assist by providing additional support services and care that may reduce the stress and improve the quality of life for everyone.”

The preferred provider program has been introduced to UHN employees in a number of ways – including a series of “lunch & learns” at UHN’s three Toronto hospitals. According to Chibba, UHN employees and volunteers can easily learn more about their benefits anytime, including this relatively new one, by visiting UHN’s intranet site.

To learn about her new benefits and anticipating there might come a time when her father would benefit from some in-home support, Simpson chose to attend one of two ‘lunch & learn’ sessions offered to staff at Princess Margaret Hospital. “It was very informative and it helps to hear other people’s stories and ideas and the fears they have too. It’s helpful to know that other people are going through the same thing, because sometimes you feel like you are the only person in the world with an elderly parent.”

It was only a few months after she attended the session that her father’s needs changed. As a result of her benefits, Simpson was quickly able to arrange for an assessment from VHA, and within a few days, Jose Medeiros visited her father’s home, evaluated his needs and then presented a plan designed to support him in his home. “At the time, my father did not qualify for any CCAC services. Jose has helped us find solutions to so many challenges,” says Simpson, adding that he’s also been an “amazing support” to her too. Part of Medeiros’ role is to work with his clients in the area of advanced care planning. “It’s about being proactive and anticipating changes in needs and services before they’re even required,” says Medeiros who adds that “with this approach, everyone benefits.”

Clearly Simpson and other UHN employees with access to this innovative service are among the most fortunate. Many adults with or without children are also caring for aging parents and this frequently means calling in sick or using vacation time to ensure their loved ones receive the support and care they need. As UHN’s Director of Human Resources, Chibba understands that the plight of the caregiver is very real and that the stress of it all can be overwhelming, sometimes leading to further absenteeism and burnout. Simpson can attest to this first-hand and believes that this program has helped to reduce some of the pressure she’s been feeling. She’s grateful to have services in place for her father that can be adjusted based on his needs – and she feels fortunate to have an employer that recognizes that many employees are coping with challenges at work and at home.

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