When a person requires special care at home, it is often a family member who steps up to the plate. As part of the National Family Caregiver of the Year Award selection process, Homewatch CareGivers has convened a panel of experts to help recognize the contributions and dedication of an estimated 65 million U.S. “family caregivers” – those unsung heroes who shoulder the everyday care and support for a loved one.
“These caregivers are literally a unique breed of individuals because they give of themselves beyond the call,” said Jesse Slome, executive director of the American Association of Long-Term Care Insurance, and returning national panelist for the NFCOYA. “When I read these stories, these people are like Mother Theresa. She touched the lives of many, while these family caregivers may touch the lives of one or two, but their level of effort and giving is equal to hers.”
The National Family Caregiver of the Year Award process begins with local efforts to gather stories of family caregivers; third parties must nominate family caregivers and applications are vetted by a panel at the local level before qualifying for the national grand prize. These local winners receive a scholarship to Homewatch CareGivers University that provides online training to enhance the knowledge and skills of professional and family caregivers, plus a full day of respite care from Homewatch CareGivers at no charge. Finalists are then considered for the national grand prize of $10,000 and the title of National Family Caregiver of the Year.
This year’s national selection panel includes representatives from AARP, Alzheimer’s Association, caring.com and the American Association of Long-Term Care Insurance. National panelists say that it is very challenging to pick just one winner from the many worthy applicants.
“I think the National Family Caregiver of the Year Award has been able to truly capture the essence of what family caregivers do,” said Susan Lutz, Senior Project Manager of Education and Outreach at AARP. “The extent of the sacrifices they make, how they are able to just give up their lives, it’s truly amazing.” Ms. Lutz noted that in reading many of the applications there are stories of people who have given up their jobs, relocated and family caregiving has taken over as a full-time “job.”
“We have long recognized that family caregivers are the backbone of this country’s long-term care system,” Ms. Lutz said of AARP. “Many of our members are family caregivers and we’re dedicated to helping them in this role.”
And although the mention of AARP might make people think of an elderly population, Ms. Lutz said that family caregivers are all ages. “I am pleased to see that entries run the gamut,” she said. “For me, that’s a really good thing to see because it really is people from all walks of life.”
Panelist Suzanne Mintz, President and CEO of the National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA), also pointed out that the applications represent a wide spectrum of family caregivers. “Regardless of their loved ones’ age or diagnosis. NFCA’s four-part message for family caregivers -- Believe, Protect, Reach Out and Speak Up -- is designed to build family caregiver confidence and capabilities,” she said. “The National Family Caregiver of the Year Award celebrates such a family caregiver.”
With $10,000 in cash to give on behalf of Homewatch CareGivers, the panelists are well aware of the dire need for additional funds for the family caregivers.
“It shows that Homewatch CareGivers truly understands the financial difficulties experienced by so many family caregivers,” said Ms. Mintz. “As the originators of the National Family Caregivers Month (a separate award), we are glad to cosponsor this annual effort that highlights the work of family caregivers and their need for help and support.”
And while the American Association of Long-Term Care Insurance can provide some of the necessary financial funds for in home caregivers, Mr. Slome said ultimately money is not everything. “Money just pays for the care, but the caregivers actually provide the human touch,” he said.
Mr. Slome re-stated that that the in home caregivers who have been nominated seem to all be doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. “They are not doing it for the reward, the compensation, they are doing it because they care and it is the right thing for them to do,” he said. “When you read their stories, my God, would any of us do the same thing?”