Editorial | Group seeks statewide system to care for caregivers

June 15, 2013 

Glenn McConnell, the lieutenant governor of South Carolina, shares with tens of thousands of state residents his personal experience with the vital role of caregivers, perhaps for”a medically fragile child or a parent with Alzheimer’s.’’

In a moving forward to an important, long-range report on family caregivers and respite for them, McConnell writes: “My brother, sisters and I could never have imagined the change in our lives when our mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.’’ Over five years, “we learned the challenges of this long farewell and the importance of family caregivers.’’

The report, “Take A Break SC! Sustaining South Carolina’s Family Caregivers Through Respite’’ makes several recommendations toward improved services “for all family caregivers of people of any age with any special need.”

“Respite is defined as regular, temporary breaks from caregiving for a person of any age with a disability, special need or chronic illness,’’ Tony Kester says in a letter to S.C. senators and representatives. He’s the director of the Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Aging, which received a three-year federal grant authorized by the 2006 Lifespan Respite Care Act.

Approximately 770,000 South Carolinians are considered family caregivers -- and some of them may not identify themselves as caregivers, but simply a daughter, son, mother, father, husband, wife caring for a loved one.

The report was compiled by the Lifespan Respite State Advisory Committee, a 32-person group with a remarkably diverse membership including including a mother of two children with autism, a mother of a Down Syndrome child, and representatives from state government, and private nonprofits such as the SC Respite Coalition and Family Connection of South Carolina, Inc., both partners with the Office on Aging.

“We’ve tried to make this a truly multidisciplinary approach,’’ says Anne Wolf, assistant deputy director of the Office on Aging.

The 19 recommendations range from increasing “public awareness about the role and utilization of respite’’ to establishing “a centralized toll-free number/clearinghouse for access to emergency resources for caregivers and care recipients.’’ The latter is Recommendation 19, with suggested implementation in 6-10 years.

In his letter to members of the General Assembly, Kester says several recommendations “can be carried out through existing infrastructure, thus lessening the fiscal impact. . . .’’ Full implementation will require more funding.

Wolf’s ongoing task, “part of what I do every day,” he says, is generating more public awareness and recruiting faith communities to develop respite programs.

Ocean Drive Presbyterian Church in North Myrtle Beach has respite services for members through its Well Spring Ministry. Parish nurse Kathy Bazzarre trains volunteers from ODPC to provide respite. She is happy to share information with other groups.

The importance of respite is highlighted by a section of the report called “The Faces of Respite.’’ Henry G., who cares for his wife in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s, received a $500 voucher from the SC Respite Coalition. (Money for the vouchers has been exhausted.)

“I decided to go fishing with some family and old friends. The day before I was leaving, I felt like I was deserting my wife . . . I knew I was just digging myself deeper . . . So I went anyway. . . . My fishing trip reminded me that I could still have a life when all this is over.’’

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