Caregiver Navigation Program in Ventura County

by Carol Leish, MA

Caring for one’s older parent, neighbor, or child is not an easy job. According to data from the 2020 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), a sizeable proportion of family and friend caregivers in California are struggling financially, experiencing physical or mental health problems, and are receiving little, if any, financial support for their caregiving responsibilities. Also, more than 20% have reported that caring for a family member or a friend was “Somewhat or extremely financially stressful” for African American (28%), Asian (23.4%), and Latino adult caregivers (21.9%) compared to white adult caregivers (17.7%), who have reported their experiences.

In Ventura County three hospitals are responding to this Caregiver burden/need. The Ventura County Community Foundation (VCCF), has funded Caregiver Navigators at three local hospitals: Community Memorial Health Systems (CMHS) in Ventura; St. John’s Hospital in Oxnard; and, Adventist Health, Simi Valley. Channel Islands State University has been providing data collection. Each hospital has its own unique program. At CMHS, a Caregiver Navigator is working specifically with families who are patients for the Centers for Family Health. Maureen Hodge, Program Manager of High-Risk Programs at Community Memorial Health Systems said, “Families are often overwhelmed or have no idea where resources are to help their loved one. Patients can be in any stage of life. We have a mom who is a caregiver to her 18-year-old bipolar, schizophrenic son; a grandma who is caregiver to her grandchild with a disability, and even an 85-year-old wife who is a caregiver to her 93-year-old husband.”

In the U.S. there are about 40 million unpaid family caregivers, which includes: older parents, spouses, aunts, uncles, and other adults who help loved ones to live independently at home. About 6.5 million family caregivers assist both adults and children as they deal with chronic illnesses, hospitalizations, and more. In Ventura County the highest diseases for our aging population are: Alzheimer’s/Dementia, heart disease, cancer, strokes, and diabetes. With these illnesses, or others, patients often also experience depression, anxiety, and/or substance use, too, which compounds their already challenging situation.

“When patients are sent home from the hospital with their spouse or a loved one,” according to Hodge, “this person doesn’t even consider themselves to be a caregiver. They are often in the dark about how to navigate patients’ chronic illnesses, find resources, or to stay in touch with the doctor. For Ventura County, these issues resonate, and the need to support family caregivers has been identified as a ‘critical health need’ in our county.”

By starting this Caregiving Navigation Program, the overall goals include: 1) Reducing hospital readmission and depression among care recipients; 2) Reducing caregiver burden of caregivers; and, 3) Integrating family caregivers into the care team in collaboration with primary care physicians. Kristine Supple, Director of Population Health at CMHS said, “CMHS’s partnership with the Ventura County Community Foundation (VCCF), has allowed us to explore the role of supporting the caregivers as they guide their loved ones through illness and disability. It’s a unique perspective to focus on the well-being of the caregiver as a way of improving the quality of life and outcome for the patient. We are grateful to VCCF for the opportunity to be one of the grant-funded hospitals in the Caregiver Navigator Initiative, collaborating to meet the needs of the caregiver.” The Caregiver Navigation is grant funded and the early results show that with the support of Clinical professionals to support and aid the caregiver has reduced depression and has increased their resilience. For more information, please reach out to Maureen Hodge, at CMHS at (805)948-2816; or Rosie Hernandez at St. John’s Hospital in Oxnard at (805) 988-2500 ext. 1684.

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