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Caregiving during COVID

August 11, 2021 — 

A University of Manitoba research team has released a new report on the impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had on family caregivers, and it provides a series of recommendations for policymakers to consider.

The team, led by Laura Funk, a professor of sociology and criminology and Jamie Penner, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing, and students Lisette Dansereau and Kaitlyn Kuryk, opened a survey in late 2020 asking caregivers about their experiences during the pandemic. Nearly 200 respondents provided insights.

Some of the highlights from the new report, “Caregiving during COVID in Manitoba: Report of Survey Findings”, include:

  • 57% of respondents reported declines in mental health and 52% reported declines in physical health.
  • Respondents expressed grave concerns about the impact of pandemic-related service pauses and physical/social distancing on the persons they were supporting: 66% believed the well-being of the person had deteriorated.
  • 56% of respondents said care recipients were receiving fewer publicly-funded supports/services, and 54% of respondents reported receiving less help from other family, friends and neighbours (due to concern about contagion, household lockdown, or visitor restrictions).
  • Even where increased support from family/friends was available, this did not necessarily fill gaps, and 60% of respondents were themselves providing more hours of care since the pandemic. Some described financial strain from purchasing private sources of help.
  • The nature of caregiving often shifted and became more logistically and emotionally challenging during the pandemic. Pre-existing challenges with navigating health and social care systems were exacerbated.
  • Respondents caring for persons living in congregate settings expressed heightened concern for the person they were supporting during periods of visitor restrictions, exacerbated by concerns about quality of care, and confusion and frustration arising from poor, mixed or frequently shifting communication from facilities and/or government.
  • There was a sense of uncertainty and concern among many respondents about when (or if) needed supports and services might be reinstated.

The last large-scale survey of caregivers done in Manitoba was in 2012 (by Funk). Back then, the largest concern was in navigating various agencies to obtain information to access programs and services and 43.5% reported needing either ‘a lot’ or ‘quite a bit’ more help managing the impact of care provision on their own mental or emotional well-being.

“The pandemic has clearly highlighted what we had learned from the 2012 survey: that quality funded services and supports that addresses peoples’ holistic needs are essential not only for the health of those directly receiving these services, but also for the health of family/friend caregivers,” Funk says. “In addition, many caregivers may have their own needs – for support, and for some life outside of the caregiving role, which are largely unaddressed in practice or policy. Caregivers need to be involved in future pandemic response planning and in health care system governance and improvement initiatives.”

The new report provides many recommendations, chiefly:

  • Future pandemic responses need to recognize the importance of social and emotional well-being and human connection, as well as the need for families to trust that risks will be reasonably mitigated to ensure safety.
  • Both caregivers and persons they are supporting need access to affordable mental health programming and counselling
  • Not only workplace accommodations, but paid care leaves and other supports can assist caregivers working in paid employment or attending school/university.
  • Promptly but safely reinstate and strengthen access to formal programs and services for care recipients.
  • Family caregivers’ needs should be addressed within health care service interactions, as well as in system governance.
  • Efforts to strengthen public care infrastructure should be informed by caregiver input and recommendations within previous reports and legislation.

 

Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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