Senator Susan Collins and Elder Care Concern: What It Means to Be From Maine

When it comes to meaningful legislative leadership and achievements, few members of Congress have records that even remotely parallel those of Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), now serving her fourth term. Senator Collins' legislative achievements are too numerous to mention here, but a visit to her website makes clear that Maine residents have ensconced a compassionate leader with the requisite leadership skills to successfully negotiate bipartisan compromises.

Senator Collins is Chairwoman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, a legislative group responsible for studying issues related to elder Americans. Heading this committee is hardly the most glamorous Congressional assignment, but Senator Collins, true to form, appears determined to provide meaningful leadership. In an op-ed published today in her home state's Portland Press Herald, Senator Collins today called for bipartisan legislation that would require the secretary of health and human services to develop a national strategy to support family caregivers.

As she stridently wrote in her op-ed:

As a nation, we must do more to care for our family caregivers.

I have introduced bipartisan legislation, which has been endorsed by the AARP and the Alzheimer's Association, to require the secretary of health and human services to develop a national strategy to support family caregivers. Titled the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage, or RAISE, Family Caregivers Act, the legislation is based on a recommendation of the bipartisan Commission on Long Term Care.

It is modeled after a law that I co-authored in 2010 with then-Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., that created a coordinated strategic national plan to combat Alzheimer's disease and has made a real difference in our fight against Alzheimer's.

The RAISE Act directs HHS to establish a National Family Caregiving Project to develop and sustain a national strategy to support family caregivers. The bill would create a Family Caregiving Advisory Council composed of relevant federal agencies and non-federal members.

CareLinx wholeheartedly endorses and supports Senator Collins' initiative. We witness first-hand every day the tremendous toll caregiving has on families, both financially and emotionally. And the challenge is going to worsen, as baby boomers begin to age and the pool of family caregivers starts to shrink. As AARP points out, when today's care-providing adults need help themselves, their options will be limited. While today there are seven potential caregivers for every senior over the age of 79, that ratio is predicted to drop to 3- or 4-to-1 by 2030. Families are simply not as large as they used to be, meaning more and more senior citizens will be compelled to seek help from professional caregivers, either in the home or at a nursing facility.

It is our hope that Senator Collins will also take measures to provide professional caregivers with better pay, and support U.S. Labor Department efforts to prevent companies utilizing their services as "contract workers" in order to circumvent labor laws. Caregivers are among the most exploited workers in America, and despite frequently performing life-saving tasks, often earn less than minimum wages.

Elder care is going to become an increasingly important issue in the coming years. Companies and individuals who specialize in elder care should take considerable comfort that Senator Collins is among the first to recognize the pending crisis and is already advocating steps to do something meaningful about it.