Q&A with Meghan Kluth on Caregiving During COVID-19

Whether it’s looking after children all day because schools and day cares are closed or checking in more with older parents and friends, COVID-19 has meant greater care responsibilities for many of us. Often accompanying these changes are increased stress and isolation as we try to juggle our own worries, work, and the care we’re providing for our loved ones.

For thousands of Coloradans, however, these challenges aren’t new. Before COVID-19, more than 1 in 10 Coloradans provided regular unpaid care for an older adult or person with disabilities. The social isolation, stress, and difficulties participating fully in the workplace we’re collectively experiencing have been (and will continue to be post-COIVD) regular parts of these Coloradans’ lives.

From paid family and medical leave to greater workplace flexibility and increased supports, the Bell Policy Center has been advocating on behalf of unpaid caregivers for years. In this work, we’ve been immensely fortunate to join a community of dedicated and brilliant partners who care deeply for our state’s caregivers. To learn more about what the current crisis means for these Coloradans and lessons for future work, we talked to one of these partners, Meghan Kluth, vice president of respite initiatives at Easterseals Colorado and lead of the Colorado Respite Coalition.

Can you give a brief overview of the Colorado Respite Coalition’s and Easterseals Colorado’s work?

Easterseals Colorado is a nonprofit that works to foster an inclusive Colorado by ensuring all people with disabilities, older adults, and caregivers have the programs and supports they need to live, learn, work, and play in schools, workplaces, and throughout our local communities. We offer many services across the lifespan including day programs, camps, employment support, and transition services. The Colorado Respite Coalition is a program of Easterseals Colorado. We focus on meeting the needs of all types of caregivers across Colorado regardless of age, care needs, and settings. While respite (temporary relief for unpaid caregivers) is a focal point of much of our work, we also provide and connect caregivers to other training and support services.

What were some of the key gaps/challenges unpaid caregivers experienced before the current crisis?

Social isolation and stress have long been challenges for caregivers. Services like respite can help with these issues, but workforce shortages often prevent families from getting the supports they need. Even when there’s enough funding, sometimes there just aren’t enough workers. Part of the issue is, even though they have very difficult jobs, these workers have really low wages. And of course, finding sustainable funding for services can also be a challenge. Respite is a hugely needed service, and it’s heartbreaking to see families who desperately need this support but can’t afford it. Sometimes there are band-aid services to help them, but other times these aren’t available unless the family can private pay.

How have any of the preexisting challenges unpaid caregivers experienced prior to COVID-19 been impacted by the current public health crisis?

Before COVID-19 there were already provider shortages for services like respite. And with many center-based programs shut down, this is a pretty difficult time for families who need these supports. Especially in certain rural areas where shortages were already acute, there are tough questions about back-up plans when there aren’t any available providers.

One of my hopes is this crisis will make the challenges caregivers were dealing with before more relatable. The stress and isolation many people are feeling now aren’t new. It has a different spin with new, scary elements, but many of the conversations we’re all having have been happening for a long time among caregivers.

How have you and other providers adapted to these challenges to better support unpaid caregivers?

At the start of the crisis, one of the first things we did was build a comprehensive list of resources for caregivers. Where possible, we’ve also moved services, including support groups, online. Even if it’s not in person, people still need the opportunity to check in with others and talk about what they’re going through.

I think Easterseals Colorado and other providers have done a good job of reaching out to people in our network as well as those we don’t regularly serve to let them know about available resources. But I am concerned about the huge number of Coloradans providing care who aren’t necessarily connected to any agency. What happens to those people? How do they get the services they need? Like before, there are people everywhere providing care, but don’t know there are services that can help them.

What additional resources would be helpful for Easterseals Colorado and other providers during COVID-19?

Money is always a pretty big issue. Prior to COVID-19, we saw a lot of silos in funding streams. We need to be thinking about how to bridge these funding silos to provide accessible services for all caregivers, regardless of who they’re caring for. We also need to start thinking about the long term. These issues won’t be going away after COVID-19, and they won’t get any better without action. Right now, we’re bringing a lot more people who need services into a system that was already stressed.

For those providing unpaid care right now, are there specific resources or tips you suggest they look into?

There are a lot of resources currently out there for caregivers, but I’d especially highlight the value of mental health services. Many caregivers are often incredibly focused on making sure the person they’re looking after has the resource he/she needs. But it’s also important for caregivers to practice self-care. There are always going to be some service gaps, but we’re seeing incredibly talented and passionate people stepping up to provide resources people need.

I’d also tell people to ask for what they need. Right now, the best and the brightest are thinking about what we can be doing better and how to redesign our services. Some of those changes are going to stick. We have a huge opportunity right now to highlight what isn’t working and come up with solutions for the future.

What are some of the things we can learn from this experience to better support unpaid caregivers in the future?

The challenges we’re collectively talking about now are the issues thousands of people deal with day in and day out. Currently there are a lot of us who have increased child care responsibilities, or who are worrying about their older loved ones. And as a result, many of us have a better understanding of the stress and isolation that results when we’re juggling caring responsibilities and work. At the end of this, I hope caregiving is a more relatable issue and that sparks long-term change and action.

Are you seeing any positive things you want to share?

There are so many people, including from state agencies, who are stepping up and collaborating. I’ve been really appreciative of how many conversations we’re asked to be a part of, and I think it really highlights the cross-sector approach people are taking. Also, in situations like this, there are people who make things harder than they have to be, but I’m not seeing that in Colorado. Across the board, people are asking how to support families and make services easier to access — even when solutions look different than they have before. It feels like we’re on the same team and we’re all in this together.

Skip to content