Covid changed everything. It has been three years since a mysterious virus began spreading around the globe and throughout the United States. From March of 2020 through August of that same year aggressive measures were put in place by the CDC to prevent the spread of Covid. As the pandemic took hold, lockdowns began. Non-essential businesses closed and there were strict criteria determining which could remain open while all others were shuttered. Schools and daycares closed, kids sheltered at home and did schoolwork over Zoom.
With lockdowns on the horizon, employers began making provisions for employees to work from home. Workers got used to rolling out of bed at 7:45am, throwing a shirt or blouse on over their pajama pants and marching to work in their home office, basement mancave, at their kitchen table or bedroom desk. When Covid died down workers didn’t want to report back to a central office, preferring the freedom to work from where they live.
Despite the negative effects of lockdowns, Kaiser Health News/USA Today found another positive outcome. Remote work benefited family caregivers.
For Aida Beltré, working remotely during the pandemic came as a relief.
She was taking care of her father, now 86, who has been in and out of hospitals and rehabs after a worsening series of strokes in recent years.
Working from home for a rental property company, she could handle it. In fact, like most family caregivers during the early days of Covid-19, she had to handle it. Community programs for the elderly had shut down.
Even when Beltré switched to a hybrid work role — meaning some days in the office, others at home — caring for her father was manageable, though never easy.
Then she was ordered back to the office full time in 2022. By then, Medicaid was covering 17 hours of home care a week, up from five. But that was not close to enough. Beltré, now 61, was always rushing, always worrying. There was no way she could leave her father alone so long.
The debate about whether to work from home or return to the office often centers around convenience, commuting and childcare, but rarely discusses adult caregiving. However, about 53 million people take care of an elderly or disabled relative.
She’s also not alone. About one-fifth of U.S. workers are family caregivers, and nearly a third have quit a job because of their caregiving responsibilities, according to a report from the Rosalynn Carter Institute. Others cut back their hours. The Rand Corp. has estimated that caregivers lose half a trillion dollars in family income each year — an amount that’s almost certainly gone up since the report was released nearly a decade ago.
Remote work makes it easier to care for an elderly relative who only occasionally needs help walking to the bathroom or a frozen dinner plopped into the microwave. It makes it easier to supervise home care workers coming into the home to assist mom or dad. It won’t take the place of long-term care, possibly only delay it until care needs become too great to do at home. Moreover, at some point working from home while caregiving will face the resource constraint of a full-time job fighting for time with full time caregiving.
Remote work can’t fill all the caregiving gaps, particularly when the patient has advanced disease or dementia and needs intense round-the-clock care from a relative who is also trying to do a full-time job from the kitchen table.
Most of the parents I’ve heard from found remote learning for their children very cumbersome. They simultaneously had to deal with their own work schedule while supervising their kids. Indeed, someone told me that employers generally will not allow parents of small children to work from home unless they can show proof of childcare arrangements. I can imagine caring for family members raising similar concerns.
Managing the declining health of loved ones will never be easy. As I have told family members dealing with this problem in the past, the perfect arrangement that works today will probably need revised next year and may not work next month. Kaiser Health News highlights how remote work can benefit caregivers but admits at some point it won’t be enough. There are no easy solutions, and taxing billionaires to expand Medicaid long term care certainly isn’t a solution either.