National Caregiver’s Day: A Look at Elder Care in the Age of COVID-19

It’s National Caregiver’s Day, and another year filled with countless and unimaginable changes has passed. This year especially, my heart goes out to caregivers and their loved ones everywhere! Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, caregiving was no bed of roses. But this year, caregivers are facing an onslaught of new challenges, not the least of which are combatting senior isolation and reduced access to face-to-face therapies and delayed medical examinations. 

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed care options?  Adult medical day care centers are not providing in person care at their customary location but may deliver services via telehealth and in person visits in the home. This leaves care in the home and care in a long-term care facility as the remaining options for senior care.  

The long-term care industry has been hard hit by the pandemic. From a medical standpoint, until the pandemic subsides, full-time care in the home is probably the safest option. A good option for private care in the home would be hiring a home health aide through an agency.  Benefits of a full-time caregiver (whether hired or by a loved one) include stronger protection of the vulnerable senior, since the caregiver is not moving from home to home (or from home to a nursing home) caring for multiple patients in multiple settings. It can also give the family members or friends who are overseeing the care an opportunity to recharge, which is important to prevent burn out. The right caregiver can provide social companionship to the senior.  

Families considering this option will want to keep in mind that the cost of private, hired live in care will include the cost of groceries for the home health aide, as well as worker’s compensation insurance if the caregiver is providing only companion and housekeeping care. . In such cases, the homeowner’s carrier should be put on notice of the arrangement and the family should work with an accountant to ensure that an accountant or payroll company to ensure compliance with withholding and state insurance requirements. The home’s layout should include a private area with a door that closes for the caregiver, who will need to rest and recharge while the senior is sleeping.  An employment agreement with the caregiver can protect the homeowner and the employer’s rights and ensure that minimum wage and hour requirements are met. If the senior needs care from a certified home health aide, keep in mind that such care can only be provided through a licensed home health care agency with a nurse supervising the implementation of the doctor’s plan of care. Hiring a caregiver to provide such comprehensive care outside of an agency is illegal and potentially places the senior’s well-being at risk.  Agencies do screen their prospective employees, and may be able to identify unsuitable caregivers.  If the caregiver is willing to break state law, how amenable will the caregiver be to calling 9-1-1 if the senior needs emergency medical care of doing so means the caregiver is risking getting caught breaking the law?  The family may expect to save money with an unlicensed, under the table caregiver arrangement, but in addition to being illegal, the fallout from such arrangements tends to be extremely expensive and can take a terrible toll on the senior’s health.  

Another option is care in the home financed through the Veteran’s Special Improved pension/Aid and Attendance, which is a government benefits program for eligible United States military veterans or their surviving spouses to help defray the cost of care.  In cases where the senior qualifies for Medicaid, and is able to remain in the home, programs such as the Personal Preferences Program (PPP), “can provide a source of funding for the senior to choose and hire their preferred caregivers, which can include relatives and friends.” Under the PPP program, the senior chooses the services and schedule they desire. 

The remaining option is care in a long term facility. This may be the best option where the care recipient is a two person assist, has behavioral quirks, or requires a team of trained medical professionals to stabilize and maintain their condition.  In some situations, Medicare dollars can be used for limited periods of time as “key” money to admit the senior to the best facility possible, with the goal of later transitioning to payment for the best care through the   Medicaid program and the senior’s income. 

These are just a few important considerations. For help sorting through your options, consultation with an elder law attorney is recommended.  

For more information about elder care in the age of COVID-19, please feel free to reach out.

Jane Fearn-Zimmer is a shareholder in the Elder and Disability LawTaxation, and Trusts and Estates Groups. She dedicates her practice to serving clients in the areas of elder and disability law, special needs planning, asset protection, tax and estate planning and estate administration. She also serves as Chair of the Elder & Disability Law section of the NJSBA.