Idaho Caregiver Alliance launches new program to support caregivers with needed resources

Idaho Caregiver Alliance has recently launched a new project called Family Caregiver Navigator, which connects unpaid caregivers with necessary resources to help support those who care for family members, friends or peers. 

Family Caregiver Navigator is a two year pilot program developed by Idaho Caregiver Alliance, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Idaho Commission on Aging and others. This project offers free services funded through Medicaid and is available to adults 18 years or older. 

Chelsea Smith, communications and project coordinator for Family Caregiver Navigator, explains the goal for this project is to reduce stress for Idaho caregivers and create a plan tailored to them to support the health and wellness of the caregiver, as well as the person they care for. 

According to Smith, the project works with evidence-based navigators to help identify stress points of caregivers and create goals based on those stressors. Caregivers connect through a referral process that directly connects caregivers with the resources they need. 

Photo by Chelsea Smith | Idaho Caregiver Alliance

“This is a unique opportunity for [caregivers] to focus on themselves and their own goals and their own health and their own needs,” Smith said. “This is an opportunity to shift the conversation back to the caregiver because research shows that by supporting caregivers we also support the patient. We know that we are benefiting the whole family or the whole unit by taking care of the caregiver.”

The process of creating a well-suited plan can take place over the phone or Zoom. Healthcare providers are adapting to create virtual services and training as well as Telehealth services to caregivers in need, according to Smith. 

Family Caregiver Navigator also helps those who are language translators for family members.

“We also know there’s a lot of students out there who, maybe their parents, maybe English is a second language or maybe they’re translators for their parents,” Smith said. “Even if their parents don’t have a serious medical condition, they’re still tasked with doing a lot of caregiving activities because of their role in the family. We want those students to feel seen and heard and know that there are resources for them out there to support them and that this is not something they have to go through alone.”

Dr. Sarah Toevs, a Boise State professor in the Department of Community and Environmental Health, director for the Center of Study of Aging and coordinator of the Idaho Caregiver Alliance, explains that this project has worked with a Global Languages Program through Boise State to translate materials for those in need. 

Toevs also explained that this project is ultimately here to guide caregivers onto a path of success. 

“This is really a life guide map to navigate some really challenging situations when they’re in the place of a family caregiver,” Toevs said. “We’re not talking about a nurse, we’re not talking about a social worker, we’re talking about that person that does this because they are passionate about the folks in their environment and wanting to help them enhance the quality of their lives.”

When people have to change roles from being someone’s child to now the primary caregiver of their parents, it can cause them to experience identity discrepancy and go through emotional trauma, according to Toevs. 

“Caregivers usually don’t have any time for themselves and they’re caught in this huge dilemma of trying to work through this emotional turmoil,” Toevs said. 

Tiffany Robb, program coordinator and lead navigator for Family Caregiver Navigator, notes that because this is a pilot program, they are obtaining data on those who utilize this service to better understand Idaho caregivers. 

“It is a pilot project and a big goal of this is to be able to collect data on family caregivers throughout the southwest region of Idaho,” Robb said. “The reason for that is so that we can start building a caregiver story which can help influence policies or investments in our caregivers throughout the state of Idaho. We’re just trying to collect more data, which is really, really important. The wonderful part of that is, we’re very upfront with our caregivers when they contact us. They know this is a pilot project and they want to be a part of the data and they want to help us collect that data, which is exciting.”

According to Robb, Family Caregiver Navigator connects caregivers with resources such as healthcare providers, mental health providers, counseling and educational resources to help caregivers understand the situation of the person they are caring for. 

“It could be directing them to the resources that they already have that they don’t identify, so maybe it’s their health care provider. It could be setting them up with a mental health provider if they do not have one,” Robb said. “It could be Alzheimer’s and dementia-related. Maybe they need some educational resources. A person might have a young child or they could be a young student themselves who has a child who has autism and they don’t understand the diagnosis of autism or maybe their child has a feeding tube and needs more education on that. We get them those resources.”

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