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Firms Help Workers Provide End-Of-Life Care
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Firms Help Workers Provide End-Of-Life Care

On Aging

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.

Now that more and more baby boomers are caring for aging parents, their employers are starting to notice. Juggling a full-time job and a parent's end-of-life care can be extremely challenging. Judy Martin reports on the ways some big companies are trying to help, and she began at a support group sponsored by one.

(Soundbite of movie)

Unidentified Man: I want to find just the right word, the words that say what's in here.

JUDY MARTIN: A dozen people watch a film while eating lunch in a dimly lit corporate training room. It's a caregiver support group at the global headquarters of Connecticut-based mailing giant Pitney Bowes.�

(Soundbite of movie)

Unidentified Man: You see, I have been diagnosed with a dementia.

MARTIN: The movie ends; conversation ensues. Employee Sondra Durant brings up her recent experience with her dad.

Ms. SONDRA DURANT (Employee, Pitney Bowes): He can't remember if he ate breakfast, but he can tell you anything that happened in 1956 - or any of those years, he's fine with it. And it hurts so bad, you know, but we reach out to him...

MARTIN: Pitney Bowes is now reaching out to its employees beyond caregiving concerns, to end-of-life issues.��It's offering employee-assistance programs like financial and legal resources, counseling on hospice and palliative care, and flexible working arrangements.

Dr. Brent Pawlecki,�Pitney Bowes' medical director, says�before the baby-boomer exodus that will leave a big hole in the workforce, it's best to hold onto them.���

Dr. BRENT PAWLECKI (Medical Director, Pitney Bowes): If the employer is responsive to the needs of the employee,�you're going to have a much more loyal and engaged employee for a longer period of time.��And so it�really will help with retainment, recruitment. And employers�can become an employer of choice that - really makes it easier to attract good talent.

MARTIN: A report by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP found one in five caregivers had to take a leave of absence from work. Now, consider the dying process in those critical months prior to death. Employee productivity becomes dicey, at best.��Dr. David Ballard heads up the American Psychological Association's Healthy Workplace Program.

Dr. DAVID BALLARD (Director, American Psychological Association's Healthy Workplace Program): At times where their concentration may be impaired - they may be distracted by all of these issues that they're dealing with - clearly, they may be physically present at work, but not be working up to their full potential.

MARTIN: To help such employees, Pitney Bowes launched a pilot program last fall allowing flexible working arrangements.��It's been crucial for employee Maryanne Fulgenzi.�She was given all the tools she needed to work mostly from home while taking care of her elderly mom.��

Ms. MARYANNE FULGENZI (Employee, Pitney Bowes): That has been an absolute life saver for me, because it enables me to take my mom to medical appointments, to handle things around the house that need to be done during the day, to watch over the care that she gets. I can get my work done at any time of the day or night, and be very successful.

Unidentified Woman: ...is to begin a conversation, to encourage a conversation...

MARTIN: Fulgenzi joined the caregiver support group. She's used online tutorials for end-of-life legal issues, and says she feels supported by her managers.

Pitney Bowes - along with GE, Pepsico and IBM - is working with the National Business Group on Health to design an end-of-life toolkit for employers. This kit will help caregivers and employees who have been given a life-limiting diagnosis.

Addressing the topic is a business imperative, says Stephen Kiernan. He's the author of "Last Rights: Rescuing the End of Life from the Medical System."

Mr. STEPHEN KIERNAN (Author, "Last Rights: Rescuing the End of Life from the Medical System"): It's not something that employers are going to have the option of dealing with. It's a question of if they can respond to it before it gets ahead of them or they begin to lose good employees, or to have huge costs because employees are out of work, taking care of mom or dad.

MARTIN: Stephen Kiernan says companies should talk about end-of-life issues because it's one of those things where the humane can really align with the bottom line.

For NPR news, I'm Judy Martin, in New York.

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