At least 600,000 Minnesotans care for an older parent, spouse, neighbor or friend. Research by AARP shows that almost half do medical tasks — including wound care, medication management and IV treatment — for someone with multiple physical and cognitive conditions. Dr. Dan Trajano — who received his medical degree from the University of Minnesota and an MBA from University of St. Thomas — spent 15 years practicing geriatric medicine and now is a senior medical director at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. Trajano said there’s a business case for health insurers to find more ways to support the friends and family who help keep their members healthy, particularly as the baby boom generation gets older.

Q: Why address family caregiving?

A: When you’re sick, you can’t do everything by yourself. Medications change and there are potential interactions and complications. If you’ve had surgery, what should you look out for such as infections and wounds? How do you get transportation to five doctor appointments? Or if there’s home care or physical therapy involved, how do you make sure everyone’s in place? As a health insurer, we are concerned about getting people the right care and avoiding unnecessary care because of bad outcomes or bad health. In practice you see this often, where a caregiver will find issues early and prevent complications or a visit to the emergency room.

 

Q: Blue Cross has produced seven online videos that feature employees and members talking about their experience caring for aging parents, including the personal story of former KARE 11-TV anchor Diana Pierce, who narrates the stories. Who is your audience?

A: It’s aimed at the community. We’ve been around for 85 years and view ourselves as a community resource to connect people to health and health care. The videos on our website [blog.bluecrossmn.com] point to the heart of what caregiving is all about — the stress and emotional toll this takes. I’m 51 and I’ve been through this as a son, and my wife has two parents who are aging. Whenever we get together with friends, inevitably we’re talking about our parents’ health and how to support them. Our company wants to be a resource to help and support not only the patients and our members, but also those who are caring for them — including our employees.

 

Q: How does the insurance side of Blue Cross and Blue Shield support caregivers?

A: A good example is the work being done through our High Complexity Case Unit. Let’s say your loved one is undergoing cancer treatment or is managing multiple chronic conditions. In these situations, a dedicated nurse from this team is assigned to act as a care navigator. When our members authorize a caregiver to have access to their information, our care navigator coordinates directly with that caregiver, so our member can focus on getting well. Informal caregivers play a crucial role in making sure their loved one is on the right path of getting healthy, avoiding complications. That makes sense not just from a care perspective — our mission — but it makes good business sense. We want to keep people out of the hospital or emergency room when they don’t have to be there.

 

Q: What about your workforce?

A: More than 10 percent of the population is serving as a caregiver. As an employer of more than 3,000 people, we want to support them in that role. The more support we give them in trying to help them do an effective job at work, the better work they will do on behalf of our members. We have employee assistance programs, and we recently began an online support program called “Learn to Live,” an evidence-based stress and anxiety management program that provides resources for stress, anxiety and mental health. We also offer on-site workshops for stress reduction. These programs aren’t aimed directly at caregivers, but those in this sandwich generation may wind up feeling a lot of stress. We have our own careers to take care of, we have our families, on top of having to step into the caregiving role for our parents.

 

Q: Does the company offer paid family leave?

A: We offer unpaid FMLA leave for employees who have been here for one year or more. Our short-term disability program is available for an employee’s own health situation, including childbirth, but not for looking after a loved one. In those cases, our employees typically use paid time off hours that accrue over time.

 

Q: What is the broader corporate strategy to address caregiver needs?

A: The video series is a great kickoff for our initiative to focus on caregiving, highlighting the impact this has on people’s lives. Later this year we’ll revamp our website called “Caregiver Corner MN” to update with more robust resources. We have specific empathy training programs at our call centers, nurses and others who care for people.