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Senate Holds Hearing on Family Caregivers

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee on Aging held a May 7 hearing to discuss the National Family Caregivers Support Program. First established by Congress two years ago, the program received $141 million in FY2002. The program provides support and assistance to family caregivers in the form of grants to states and localities.

Josefina G. Carbonell of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) detailed the National Family Caregiver Support Program. Last year the program provided $113 million in grants to the states, and this year an additional $128 million was provided. Ms. Carbonell noted that states are utilizing the money in “creative ways” from using refurbished computers to establishing an online support group to creating mobile day care programs that provide respite care to caregivers.

Ms. Carbonell cited additional examples, including an 80-year-old great-grandmother who is caring for her 23-year-old granddaughter with end-stage AIDS and her three young children. “Funds are used to purchase diapers and related supplies for the babies and respite care for the great-grandmother to allow her to go to medical appointments,” she told the subcommittee.

In discussing the challenges that lie ahead, Ms. Carbonell noted that public awareness about the emotional and physical toll of caregiving and the services that are available to caregivers needs to be heightened. “All too often, a caregiver seeks help only when a crisis occurs,” she said. To address this, HHS will be airing a public service campaign on PBS that will focus on the national program and how caregivers can access those services.

Sue F. Ward of the Maryland Department of Aging detailed the state’s efforts to provide services to caregivers. She noted that in the first quarter of the fiscal year, “more than 10,000 caregivers have inquired about and received information, and 1,700 have received one-to-one assistance.” Additionally, nearly 1,300 caregivers participated in counseling or training sessions.

John N. Skirven of Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia noted that his organization has been able to expand its adult day care, homemaker services, in-home respite care, overnight respite care, personal care, senior companion program, information specialists, emergency services, and pharmacy services.

The subcommittee also heard from Barbara McSweeney, a caregiver to her 91-year-old mother, who said that the respite care services provided to her through the national program “rescued me from a collision with poor mental and physical health.”

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