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Colorado Caregivers face mental health crisis following COVID-19 pandemic

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Steven Bonifazi
Steven Bonifazi
(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

By Steven Bonifazi

(DENVER, Colo.) Colorado caregiver's mental health is more strained than ever, with all the stress, anxiety and depression brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the CDC, the COVID-19 pandemic generated a mental health crisis catastrophe for caregivers, with unpaid caregivers reporting they had undergone poor mental health outcomes in addition to increased substance use and heightened suicidal feelings last summer. Blue Cross Shield also discovered that approximately 57% of caregivers are dealing with clinically notable levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

In Colorado, over 843,000 family caregivers currently work as the sole provider of long-term services and support to elderly adults in the state as well as individuals that deal with chronic health care needs or disabilities on a daily basis. A total of 1 in 5 caregivers report high financial strain directly tied with caregiving, according to the Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 AARP Research Report.

"Every family has such unique and dynamic situations and it changes a lot. A lot of caregivers have passed away before the person they are caring for because they have their own health issues or the added stress that comes with caregiving," said Care Coach Maura Horton, who started caregiving for her husband who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 15 years ago and unfortunately passed away. "It's been part of my legacy for him to help, educate and provide people resources in the caregiving journey."

The report additionally stated that 3 in 10 caregivers have stopped saving money, with 1 in 3 taking on extra debt. Furthermore, caregivers statewide gathered at the State Capitol building on April 15 to discuss better protections and wages for caregivers with state legislators.

Despite widespread vaccine access providing many the opportunity to resume a more normal life and activities, caregivers of elderly adults and individuals with chronic health conditions or disabilities are forced to remain secluded. Fortunately, the state has a few distinctive opportunities for caregivers to receive pay for some of their time spent caregiving.

One opportunity is the Consumer Directed Attendant Support Services (CDASS) program, which makes it possible for eligible recipients to hire, train and manage their own personal care providers, including adult children and spouses. Recipients can manage their own Health First Colorado funds and utilize those funds to pay their desired personal care provider.

"Colorado’s in a unique situation, not a lot of people allow that," said Horton. "Part of the caregiving journey is building a team that supports you and by doing that, you’ll see what resources are available. Colorado is really the exception more than it is the rule."

Caregivers in Colorado who become certified nursing assistants (CNA) can be reimbursed by the state through a licensed home care agency in order to provide CNA-level care through Colorado Medicaid or Colorado Medicaid Waivers. Family members who are not CNAs can also provide care for their loved ones through the Family Caregiver Act by being hired by a Home Health agency and reimbursed through Medicaid.

Apex Caring Services works to hire family caregivers of individuals that utilize the C-HCBS, EBD or SCI waivers in order to provide paid care for their loved ones. Apex additionally provides similar hours to caregivers that have yet to complete the CNA course.

Home health agencies that aid caregivers in paying for their CNA qualifications while hiring family or friends to care for their loved ones are as follows:

  • Team Select Home Care: Parents, family members or friends can attend Team Select Home Care's free of charge CNA course and become certified, get paid and take care of their loved ones.
  • PASCO Home Health: Family members can attend a Certified Nursing Assistant school that is completely paid for by PASCO in order to become a primary caregiver and one backup provider as an employee of PASCO.
  • MGA Home Healthcare: MGA pays for all upfront costs of CNA school, having the family caregiver pay those fees back in stages through their paychecks.

"It's not a straight line, there’s a lot of peaks and valleys throughout that caregiving journey and you have to just look forward to a good moment or good day," said Horton. "You could be on a steady plane for a while and someone falls and you’re in a hospital taking care of someone, children, pets or yourself. Try to look forward to those good moments."

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