By Erika Webb
When life doles out dilemmas, feeling alone can be the hardest part of all.
Experts agree caring for a suffering loved one can be a very isolating and stress provoking experience.
Last month Halifax Health originated a free Caregiver Support Line, sponsored by the Halifax Health Center for Transplant Services.
Jen Watley, the psychosocial program coordinator for Halifax Health and a facilitator for the hospital's caregiver support group, was bewildered when the meetings were so sparsely attended.
With 39 percent of U.S. adults acting as caregivers, according to a 2013 Pew Research Internet Project article, the social worker would have expected more people to gravitate to a help and guidance offering.
Another social worker at the hospital "tried very hard" over a couple of years to increase the support group's numbers, but a persistent attendee ebb and flow plagued the well-meaning.
The broad spectrum caregiver support group just wasn't catching on.
The social workers set about finding out why.
"We found out that a lot of times they couldn't attend due to their role as caregiver," Ms. Watley said. "We found they'd come for a specific need, when they were overwhelmed, not just for general support. When they came, it was because something was wrong."
Fast-paced, demand driven lives required something more convenient and accessible, she discovered.
She submitted a proposal with an outline of a solution-oriented idea to her manager.
"What if they had a number to call, a one-stop shop for caregivers?" Ms. Watley said.
People in health compromised situations often need help with utility bills, steering in the direction of respite and long term care facilities and assistance navigating the Medicaid maze.
The caregivers often are trying to juggle their own responsibilities while tending for another.
"Caring for a loved one is an activity that cuts across most demographic groups, but is especially prevalent among adults ages 30 to 64, a group traditionally still in the workforce," according to the article posted on pewresearch.org.
The support line will provide for those caring for a broad range of patients, including Alzheimer's, cancer, post-operative organ transplant and more, Ms. Watley said, but it is not for emergency medical services.
In medical emergencies, caregivers and patients always should call 911, she added.
Another type of emergency, impending electricity shutoff -- for example, will be prioritized.
Working together with Hospice of Volusia/Flagler and Halifax Oncology Associates the caregiver support line managers -- Ms. Watley and Christi Gorgans, psychosocial program coordinator for Halifax -- take the calls and dispense information.
"We have a comprehensive list of all types of community resources throughout Volusia and Flagler counties," Ms. Watley said. "I think often older adult children who are caring for their parents comes up often...they don't know which direction to turn to help them continue caring for their loved ones at home."
The social workers cannot facilitate the process of enrolling a patient in adult day care, respite or long term care facilities, but they can provide the information needed to accomplish the goal.
"Caregivers are highly engaged in the pursuit of health information, support, care and advice, both online and offline, and do many health-related activities at higher levels than non-caregivers," the Pew Internet Research article states.
The support line is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Calls received Friday, Saturday, Sunday or after hours will be returned within 48 hours, Ms. Watley said.
"Families are the major provider of long-term care. Research shows care giving places a heavy emotional, physical and financial toll on caregivers, so many issues arise," Ms. Gorgans explained in a news release issued by Halifax.
Among the chief concerns Ms. Watley has heard expressed by caregivers and the cared for: Does the patient qualify for Medicaid? Who will qualify for long-term care? Are they in jeopardy of losing their home?
"(Issues) are compounded when caregivers, many of whom also work, experience conflicts between their work and caregiving schedules," Ms. Gorgans said. "Hopefully caregivers in Volusia and Flagler counties will find this support line informative as well as a comfort."
Ms. Watley and Ms. Gorgans will evaluate each phone call to identify where there is the most need. They will assess age, most vulnerable portion of the overall population and who needs the most help.
That's the long-term goal of a work in progress. Time will tell and the support line will evolve.
For now, the social workers will concentrate on lifting spirits and shifting burdens.
"Sometimes all they need is just someone to listen," Ms. Watley said.
Caregiver Support Line: (386) 947-4652