For help, Patricia turned to her employer, Prudential Financial Inc. The company helped cover the cost of a geriatric social worker who visited the man, evaluated his needs and helped persuade him to move to an assisted-care facility.
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Prudential Financial is one of a small but growing number of firms starting to provide elder-care benefits for employees.
Recognizing the burden of caring for aging parents, companies such as NBC Universal Inc., Unilever USA and McGraw-Hill Cos. offer services that include underwriting the cost of emergency caregivers and connecting employees with nursing-home finders or physicians who specialize in older patients.
Some employers are allowing workers to include elderly parents in health insurance coverage. Some provide counseling, group support sessions, more flexible work schedules and even help with errands and home repairs.
Marc Solomon said his bosses helped ease his elder-care worries by providing a room where he and co-workers meet monthly over lunch to talk about the stresses of caring for parents.
A software administrator for Toyota Motor Sales USA in Torrance, Calif., Solomon, 60, often worked long hours to keep up with his duties while overseeing the care of his ailing father, who suffered from dementia. He died in 2005. But the balancing act took a toll.
"You don't at first notice the stress you're under," he said. "But every time the phone rings, you think it's the call when they'll tell you he's dead. Sometimes you're hoping that's the call you get because you want to get back to the life you had."
The elder support group is one of three that Toyota makes available to employees. The company covers the cost of an outside facilitator.
Although little data are available on the number of companies offering these benefits, consultants say elder-care assistance is catching on faster than did child care.
"Not everyone has children, but everyone has a parent," said Alexandra McCauley, a human resources vice president at NBC Universal in New York.
Adult children always have cared for ill family members. But a confluence of demographic trends has turned that responsibility into a major worry.
Most of the adult sons and daughters who look after their parents are still working--60 percent, according to one survey--and they plan to stay on the job longer than workers of previous generations.
Meanwhile, the number of Americans who are 65 and older is expected to double, to 71 million by 2030. The population of those 85 and older is expected to nearly double, to 9.6 million.
Employee absences and turnover tied to elder care already cost American employers as much as $33 billion a year, according to the study by MetLife, the research arm of Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. At least six of 10 working caregivers found the work-parent pinch so consuming that they reduced their hours, took unpaid leave or made another change in their employment, the study showed.
Employers traditionally tried to deal with elder-care issues by offering group rates on long-term-care insurance policies that paid for a nurse or housekeeper. The expansion into other elder-care services comes at a time when businesses are trimming or eliminating other benefits, such as health insurance.
But elder-care benefits cost relatively little compared with health coverage, for example. Employers generally provide some services at no cost, such as consultation with lawyers, and subsidize others, such as in-home nursing care. Employees might be required to foot co-payments, just as in conventional health insurance.
"At the end of the day, we view [elder-care benefits] as a differentiator, a way of attracting and retaining our employees," NBC Universal's McCauley said.
Employees at the entertainment firm can tap into a referral service to connect parents with caregivers and other aid, and the company is testing a backup care program in Florida.
Many top executives understand the need for elder care because "they themselves may be responsible for an older relative," said David Lissy, chief executive of Bright Horizons Family Solutions, a provider of employer-sponsored child-care centers and backup baby-sitters that this year began offering backup elder care. More than 20 employers--including asset management firms Blackrock Financial and AllianceBernstein--signed up with Bright Horizons within months.
Costs for the child and elder backup care package typically range from $20,000 for a small business to $1 million for a company with several thousand employees.
Molly Selvin is a staff reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Co. newspaper.