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Top of Mind: Caregiver burnout & worker shortages

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pam and jeb griffith

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - Pam Griffith and her husband Jeb live right off the Black River.

They moved from Caledonia two years ago because of the natural beauty and to be closer to care for Jeb. Jeb was diagnosed with mixed dementia. His condition has declined over the past three years.

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“It’s been hard," said Pam. "There are times that he said he wants to go home, and we’re not sure where home is, if it’s boyhood home or our home in Caledonia. It was hard. It was a hard transition to make, but I'm glad I did it."

Respite care gave Pam a break for a few hours so she can chat with us. Taking care of Jeb on her own had become more difficult and caregiver burnout was becoming a reality.

"To be very honest, nobody signs up for this," said Pam. "It’s a role that you don’t anticipate that you’re going to be in."

LEARN MORE: DEMENTIA RESOURCE GUIDE

Pam’s situation paints the perfect picture of the importance of in-home and respite care. It can be costly though and range anywhere from $40 to $150 an hour. It's also lacking in this area.

"We don’t have enough in-home providers for the aging population in general," said Kelsey Flock, Dementia Care Specialist at the La Crosse Aging & Disability Resource Center. "Whether that be because of the staffing shortage, pay is not great in that position, and then, if you add dementia back into the mix, training."

Attracting skilled and trained workers to serve has become one of the biggest challenges for in-home and assisted living care. However, even pre-pandemic, services struggled to retain workers.

"There is not a huge career in being a supportive home care worker," said Cheryl Neubauer, Executive Director of the La Crosse Aging & Disability Resource Center. "Going into somebody's home and earning $10 an hour, when you can go to Kwik Trip and earn more than that."

That work can also be physically demanding. The mentality of this type of occupation has shifted from a long-term career to a short term step.

"It’s for people who are students, who are in nursing programs, or medical programs, so holding on to staff is very challenging, very challenging," said Neubauer.

For the existing and aging workforce, the clock is ticking.

"As we move into the next 10 or 15 years, many of those men and mostly women are of retirement age," said Wanda Plachecki, Executive Director of Long Term Care & Residential Services in La Crosse County. "We very rarely are hiring someone now especially in that CNA area where people are coming in and saying, "I want this to be my career."

Those shortages can hinder the number of people facilities and in-home programs can help and even the quality of that care.

"I think the need is going to grow, and our ability to care for people the way we do it today is not going to keep pace," said Plachecki.

Often times, the caregiving role falls on people like Pam who is lucky to have some family nearby to help. That's not always the case, especially with more children moving farther apart from their parents.

As Pam begins to look at future options, she’ll continue to rely on her supportive family and respite care, embracing the little moments with Jeb.

"I’m dreading the day when he won’t recognize me," said Pam. "When he just sees me as another friendly face, and I know caregivers always think about how long is this going to go on. Those are the issues I think about a lot."

Top of Mind: Caregiver burnout & worker shortages

Mike Beiermeister

WXOW Weekend Anchor and Reporter

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