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September 4, 2017 Focus on small business

Businesses are catering to the Sandwich Generation

PHOTO/EDD Cote Angela Polletta-Penny runs an adult day care center, which helps provide relief for professionals who are thrust into the role of caring for parents and other adults.

Most working professionals know the angst coming with raising children and meeting the demands of the workplace.

Managing sick days and school vacations, and making it to extracurricular activities while meeting deadlines, is an unrelenting challenge.

Now, imagine doing all of that while handling the care of an aging parent or other relative.

For more and more Americans, this is becoming a reality as the population ages and as people have children later in life.

The median age of first-time mothers in the U.S. increased 1.4 years to just over 26 between 2000 and 2014, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the median age of first-time mothers holding bachelor's and master's degrees were 28 and 30, respectively, according to a 2015 study by Pew Research Center. .

Meanwhile, the National Alliance for Caregiving published data in 2015 finding 34.2 million Americans provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older – the vast majority of them family members. The median age of caregivers was 49.2, signaling many people who are taking care of aging family members – probably kids, too – are in their peak career years.

“We're talking about 40-year-old people, having kids and making it all work,” said Angela Polletta-Penny, who is operational director at the Saint Francis Adult Day Health Program in Worcester. “And God forbid anything happens to your parents.”

Polletta-Penny said this population is known colloquially as the Sandwich Generation, since they're between caring for their children and their parents. Given the state of most companies' policies on paid time off for caregiving (most don't offer it), Polletta-Penny said professionals have to find other solutions for care of aging parents.

“You get vacation and sick time, and then what?” Polletta-Penny said.

"A burden on both ends"

When employees have to take time to care for aging parents, small businesses face greater challenges, as their coworkers are challenged to be flexible and still meet business needs, said Vanessa Costa, principal of Advantage Benefits Group Worcester.

Costa said small businesses aren't beholden to the federal Family Medical Leave Act protecting an employee's job while they take care of a family member. Some may allow employees to take time off when possible, but not every workplace is able to handle absent employees.

This puts small business owners and managers in the tough position of being compassionate to their employees' needs and retaining top talent, but the rising trend disproportionately impacts small businesses where fewer coworkers are available to cover another's duties.

“I don't think there's any easy answers, and it's a burden on both ends,” Costa said.

Help during the day

Polletta-Penny said people shouldn't feel no resources are available. Adult day health, she said, is an affordable alternative to private care in the home, which is paid by the hour, or institutional care, which is paid out-of-pocket if people aren't sick enough to receive insurance for nursing home care.

Like many daycare centers for children, adult day health facilities charge a daily rate (at St. Francis, it's $65) and covering medical care, meals and social activities during work hours. Registered nurses and certified nurses aids are available around the clock.

Insurance coverage is available for these services, Polletta-Penny said, and when there isn't, people can generally afford to pay out of pocket. But despite the benefits adult day health offers, she thinks it's a little-known option.

“I've realized, in having people coming in for tours, they just don't know the option is there,” Polletta-Penny said.

Fallon encourages flexibility

The burden of caregiving, on both employees and employers, is something Worcester-based Fallon Health is tapping into, said Jill Lebow, chief human resources officer for the insurer. In June, Fallon held a symposium on the topic, with an audience of about 140 employers, insurance brokers and healthcare providers.

“We put together this program to really concentrate on what it means to be a caregiver in the U.S., and what impact caregiving has on the economy, on employers, on the community, and on the caregivers themselves,” Lebow said.

Lebow said employers face absenteeism and presenteeism, which refers to reduced productivity when employees are working because of stress and exhaustion of caregiving. Caregivers may have a decline in their own health, and 60 percent of caregivers experience work-related impacts, even quitting.

Lebow said offering flexible work arrangement whenever possible is one way employers can help employees. If an employee has to take a parent to an appointment or telecommute, Lebow said department heads accommodate those requests whenever possible.

“If we can make an accomodation to their schedule, while still meeting business needs, we do that,” Lebow said.

(Note: This story was updated on Sept. 11 with the correct source and publication year for data on U.S. caregivers.)

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