Spotlight on Research- Respite Care | The Bell Policy Center

Spotlight on Research- Respite Care

Date: Jun 20, 2017

Spotlight on Research: Respite Care

The work of a caregiver is rewarding – and exhausting. Often, family caregivers need a break from their responsibilities, but services that can help aren’t widely available. That’s why the Bell is partnering with the Colorado Department of Human Services, Easterseals of Colorado and others to implement the 2016 Respite Care Task Force findings. The 2016 bill supporting these recommendations had bipartisan support in the legislature, and the work also has the backing of the Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging (SAPGA).

Respite care is temporary relief for families of children or adults of any age with special needs who are unable or need assistance to care for themselves. At some point in our lives, we will all be caregivers- whether that be for an aging parent, a disabled or sick child, or another loved one.  And eventually, we will all need caregivers ourselves. Thus, respite services can be a crucial support for all of us.

Colorado’s demographics are shifting. Advances in health care have resulted in people living longer lives, and as a result our population is aging. By 2030, the number of seniors in Colorado will increase by 150 percent. And by 2040, people age 65 and older will make up about a fifth of our population. Around 70 percent will have a disability at some point, and half of those over age 85 will need assistance with common home-based tasks.[i] Our disabled population is living longer as well, and will require services for a longer time period as a result.

Even now, the demand for care workers far outpaces their availability, and the cost of hiring someone to be a caregiver is often prohibitive- especially for patients who have higher level needs than others, and therefore must employ caregivers with higher certifications. Very often, family members will step in to provide care. The AARP estimates that the value of family caregiving was $7.4 million in Colorado, and $470 billion nationally in 2013. That is more than total Medicaid spending for that year.

Led by Natalie Wood, our research will study access to respite care through Medicaid waivers that provide long term services and supports to Coloradans. We are interviewing stakeholders, reviewing state rules and regulations, and mining the available data to find out why people are having trouble receiving respite, and how people can have more standardized access to this service through waivers.

Although respite is offered through many of these waivers, how much is offered, when caregivers can take it, how respite providers are reimbursed, and whether different types of respite are available, varies by waiver. Additionally, appropriate caregivers for a patient’s level of need can be very difficult to find in some areas. Families may simply be unable to find providers in their community, or even nearby. Much of our work will help find the kinks in the waivers and, working with the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, propose ways to increase access to and use of the respite services on HCBS waivers.

Research commissioned by SAPGA shows that informal caregivers pay a hefty price to do this important work- $3.7 billion in 2015 or $7,400 per caregiver. With at least one out of every ten Coloradans being an informal caregiver, we should be doing everything we can to ensure that they are getting the breaks they deserve. 


[i] “Colorado’s Care Economy,” Caring Across Generations, August, 2014.