Federal grant supports caring for caregivers

URI nursing students provide respite for those caring for loved ones in the home

Newswise — KINGSTON, R.I., Oct. 12, 2017 — A 75-year-old grandmother cares for a legally blind teenage grandson and a 10-year-old foster child with behavioral issues.

A father with developmental disabilities tries alone to raise a young son who has surpassed him in cognitive ability.

A young mother raising her two children provides around-the-clock care for her aging mother who suffers from dementia.

These are just a few examples of Rhode Islanders struggling with caring for a loved-one in the home, an all-encompassing prospect that can leave little time for them to lead their own lives. Sometimes, it’s the caregivers who need to be cared for, and University of Rhode Island College of Nursing students are there to help.

“It consumes your whole life,” URI nursing Professor Diane Martins said of caring for an ill, disabled or aging loved one. “Sometimes, you need help providing care, or you just need someone to watch them while you go to Stop & Shop. Sometimes, family members just need to go out and take a walk. This program provides care for the caregivers.”

Thanks to a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Human Services Lifespan Respite Grant Program, URI nursing students, along with students from Rhode Island College, provide respite care for family caregivers throughout the state. The students visit the home and provide whatever assistance caregivers need, whether it’s help feeding a paralyzed patient, modeling appropriate parenting behavior, or simply sitting with a patient so the caregiver can break away for a short time. URI students have focused on providing pediatric respite care, while RIC students have concentrated on geriatric care.

Students will continue to provide respite care in the community for the next three years now that the Lifespan Respite grant has been extended, said Rhode Island Department of Elderly Affairs Director Charles Fogarty during a tour of URI’s College of Nursing Monday. The state agency is receiving $831,000 in federal funds to continue the respite program with URI and RIC and extend it to include students at Salve Regina University and New England Institute of Technology, Fogarty announced.

“One of the things the governor has a strong interest in is respite care,” Fogarty said, noting the state had a long waiting list of caregivers seeking help before the program with URI and RIC began. “In the last three years, we haven’t had a waiting list. This takes a need in the community, combines it with the resources at the University to create a real win for the state.”

Nursing students are particularly qualified to provide respite services for caregivers who are sometimes hesitant to leave their loved ones in someone else’s hands. Nurses and nursing students have the education and clinical experience to handle many potential health issues, helping give family members peace of mind, according to Chris McGrane, assistant clinical professor in nursing at URI.

“Nursing is one of those professions that is respected in society,” McGrane said. “People feel more confident knowing they’re nursing students. They see a nurse as a good resource who can provide the care they need.”

That care is provided not just to the patient, but to the caregiver as well, according to Kathy McKeon, of the Diocese of Providence Catholic Social Services, which directs caregivers looking for respite help to the nursing College. The vital role home caregivers play is often overlooked, she said.

“One of our big purposes is to be able to speak on behalf of caregivers,” McKeon said, noting that for those with low incomes, the service is provided free of charge. “They are often the unseen person in the background who does so much. It is very important that we stay focused on the people who are really giving a bulk of the care.”

The Lifespan Respite Care Program provides that needed care, while serving a dual role of giving nursing students real-world, practical experience with patients, according to URI College of Nursing Dean Barbara Wolfe.

“The number of lives we’ve been able to touch has been really impressive,” Wolfe said. “One of the things we’re seeing is what students are getting out of it. They really see what it’s like working with families. It’s an opportunity to gain experience and really learn to provide first-rate care.”