Supporting Colorado Caregivers Through Respite Care

Respite care is an increasingly important service, both nationally and in Colorado. An estimated 584,000 Coloradans are informal caregivers, and provide unpaid care for a loved one over the age of 18. This number is expected to grow in the coming years as our state’s population of older adults rises. Both informal caregivers and their loved ones reap multiple benefits from respite care. Despite its importance, Colorado families, through interviews and surveys, cite cost, availability, and their lack of knowledge about options as barriers to accessing respite services. 

Stakeholders consulted by the Bell note families have difficulty finding qualified respite care workers. This challenge will be exacerbated in the future as shifting demographics increase demand for paid and unpaid caregiving. Colorado’s health care and social assistance industry, which includes jobs such as home health and personal care aides, is projected to see rapid growth through 2026.

Unfortunately, despite this growth, the state is facing a gap between those needing services and those who provide them. Respite care providers keep care recipients safe and cared for, performing tasks for their care recipient similar to the aid given by these workers. However, these positions often pay low wages, have unpredictable schedules, and offer few benefits, contributing to high employee turnover rates. Low retention rates concern families who value stability and consistency from the respite workers who are providing care for their loved ones. Colorado’s state policymakers can improve pay and job quality for the respite care workforce because they have the ability, among other things, to increase Medicaid provider reimbursement rates and require those increases be passed on to direct care workers.

Families also report difficulty accessing overnight, facility-based respite care. A 2018 survey of Colorado caregivers revealed over 30 percent of surveyed families would like to use this type of service more. According to interviews with state agency personnel and respite providers, complex licensing requirements from state departments and local zoning regulations are partially to blame for the lack of quality facility-based overnight care. These regulations constrain the ability of providers, especially those serving young children, who want to offer overnight respite in a facility. The cost of meeting regulatory requirements dissuades them from trying to offer it in the first place.

Respite is a vital service for families who are taking care of a loved one at home. This brief offers important background information that can help policymakers better understand the structural needs, challenges, and opportunities to providing higher quality and increased access to respite care.

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