I am sitting at my desk with the unusual moment of free time and felt the urge to communicate to our readers here about the state of caretaking that I am now actively a part of. It is not an easy job by any means. Caring for your mom after the death of her soulmate of 65 years is daunting. Enter Susan, or as my mom calls her, Susie.
Susie is a cross between Mary Poppins, the Good Witch, and Hazel (only older folks will get this reference, for younger audiences think Alice). She is from the School of Hard Knocks. She had a stint in the Navy as a personal assistant to a rear admiral, got pregnant, married, then divorced, and now lives in the blue-collar peninsula of Hull, Mass. She has half a nursing degree and a full heart. She has taken our home into her able-bodied hands and has particularly helped my mom, a survivor of Nazi-Germany, feel as if the war may indeed be coming to an end soon.
What is the value that caretakers have in our society? Where do they rank in the scheme of healthcare and social service? The answer is not very high. Their pay scale is most analogous to a teenage babysitter. They often are provided with few, if any, benefits. And, they have little to show at the end of the day with regard to personal wealth. Their remuneration is the feeling that they are helping, worthwhile, and valued.
I employ dozens of staffers all of whom are paid more than Susie has been paid prior to meeting my family. In no way do I wish to denigrate the hard work and service performed by my employees but, truth be told, their contribution does not live in the same stratosphere as Susie’s. It can’t.
It is an old story. Our society reveres occupations that distance us from reality – sports, entertainment, investments – but, does not truly pay homage to the distinctly special art of caretaking. A select few are able to instill confidence, security, and a sense of ease in those with whom they are entrusted. They deserve more than what we give them including financial recognition by government and citizens alike.
There has been little research on the efficacy of superb caretaking and its effect on longevity and quality of life. Most funded studies are looking at the role of prevention and cost-savings to the system. A 2009 study at the Tufts University School of Medicine cites that clearly preventative care can reduce the incidence of disease, but savings may be partially offset by health care costs associated with increased longevity. More importantly, the authors write:
“Whether these additional competing risk costs outweigh the savings from avoiding the targeted disease depends on how healthy people are during the added life years. Given that so few preventive services save money and that these services are already in wide use, it is unlikely that prevention can reduce health care spending. The authors question whether the emphasis on savings is appropriate and suggest it is better to focus on high value preventive care, taking into account increased longevity and quality of life.”
In my opinion, high value preventative care, as described by the authors, defines Susie’s contribution. The correlation between her assistance to my mom and my mom’s ability to maintain stature and significance is undeniable. As the baby boomers age, the system will be taxed for sure. We must live longer, better. Without the Susies of the world, I am convinced that this is not possible.
By the way, my sister found Susie on Care.com – a wonderful website matching those in need of service, with those who wish to help. Susan’s influence is the best medicine that could have been prescribed for my mom and my family. Someday, research will bear this fact out as well.