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Seeing in the Dark: Why more employers should offer care benefits

by Belo Cipriani

Terry Wicks, left, with his husband, Michael Draper. Photo: Courtesy Terry Wicks
Terry Wicks, left, with his husband, Michael Draper. Photo: Courtesy Terry Wicks  

Employers aim to show workers that they care about them — and are invested in their future — by offering benefits. But more often than not, these corporate perks fail to offer employees services that are useful, especially during a crisis.

One of the most commonly overlooked benefits by organizations is flexible work time to be a caregiver for a family member. For LGBTQs, who often follow a chosen family structure, this can include neighbors and friends.

San Francisco resident Terry Wicks, now 64, was enjoying a successful career as an X-ray/MRI tech in 2015 when his husband, Michael Draper, now 57, was diagnosed with multiple system atrophy — a very rare neurodegenerative brain disease that has no treatment and is fatal.

"When we were told it was terminal," said Wicks, "I gave two weeks' notice and quit my job to focus on Michael and the life changes that were necessary going forward."

Wicks confirmed what we all know: that caregiving is tough. He spends his entire day caring for his husband, running the home, looking after pets, and managing the household budget. Prior to his diagnosis, Draper worked as a senior director of global operations for a major tech company in Silicon Valley. Now that some time has passed, Wicks said that loss of income has greatly impacted their family.

"I am not compensated in any way by anyone for being Michael's full-time caregiver. The fact that I cannot work because I have to take care of Michael has really hurt our finances," said Wicks.

Wicks and Draper's heartbreaking story is, sadly, not uncommon. According to a 2019 Harvard Business School study, "The Caring Company: How Employers Can Cut Costs and Boost Productivity by Helping Employees Manage Caregiving Needs," by Joseph B. Fuller and Manjari Raman, which examines survey results from 1,500 employees and 300 human resources leaders, three out of four (73 percent) employees surveyed reported having some type of current caregiving responsibility, and more than 80 percent of employees with caregiving responsibilities admitted that caregiving affected their productivity. In addition, almost 25 percent of employees surveyed who said they left an organization cited doing so to care for an ill or disabled spouse, partner, or extended family member.

"We are always working," said Raman, one of the study's authors, "and where is the time to take care of our responsibilities?

"Traditional families don't really exist, but most employers don't acknowledge family of choice and lose out on great workers," continued Raman. "Our research found that most organizations are wasting money offering benefits that employees don't need, and overlook care benefits."

Raman explained that care benefits are often limited to executives and are not advertised within organizations or on benefit company sites. She also stated that people live in a culture where they can feel guilty for taking time off — even if it is to deal with a tragedy — and may be hesitant to ask their employer for a care benefit.

Paul Blom, a gay businessman and owner of a Right at Home franchise in Bloomington, Minnesota (https://www.rightathome.net/twin-cities) — an agency that provides caregiver services — said most people end up paying for caregivers from their income or out of their savings, and that the costs quickly add up.

"It can cost anywhere between $30-$40 per hour, depending upon the level of care that is required," he said. "People who are low-income can qualify for medical assistance/Medicaid programs that will cover care, but the reimbursement rates have stagnated over the last 10 years, to the point that there are fewer and fewer agencies that will accept reimbursement through those programs."

Blom's business has started to see some referrals come in through http://www.care.com — a website that connects families with different care providers. However, he said it's only a handful of large companies that are offering a care benefit through the care.com service, Care Concierge.

Both Raman and Blom feel more employers need to offer care benefits; yet, it's a long journey toward making care benefits a common company perk, as companies would have to shift their culture in order to appreciate the advantage of helping their employees meet their caregiver responsibilities.

To read the full Harvard study, visit https://hbs.me/2VXj18x. And for more information about caregiving resources for the LGBT community, you can visit the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging at: https://www.lgbtagingcenter.org/training/index.cfm.

Belo Cipriani is an award-winning author and prize-winning journalist. His new book, "Firsts: Coming of Age Stories by People with Disabilities," is now available. Learn more at www.olebbooks.com.

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