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Legal Ease: Legal status would safeguard family caregivers

There are those among us with chronic illnesses, special health needs, reduced functionality, dependence and lack of autonomy.

Current government policy requires such people to remain in their own homes as long as possible and many prefer to do so. Such people require help that is often provided by a non-professional caregiver, namely someone close to the person who provides continuous full- or part-time care in the home.

Caregivers have no legal status as employees, professionals or paid help and no specific laws exist to protect them.

Their needs are not recognized, their obligations are not defined and their rights are not protected.

The services carried out by a caregiver may be numerous, varied, complex and often exercised under difficult conditions.

It is important that caregivers rights be recognized and that they are able to exercise their functions with competence in an environmentthat is secure for themselves and those they are helping.

There is presently no law to guarantee the personal security or a minimum quality of life for caregivers. Many are worn out physically and psychologically.

Their health may deteriorate. They may have problems at work, often have no social life, and may become impoverished.

Society must recognize its own obligations to take whatever measures may be necessary to prevent this situation for those who are rendering a necessary service, benefiting the recipient of care and society in general.

Although the position of caregiver must be undertaken voluntarily, there is often no choice. It becomes a family duty rather than a job willingly undertaken.

Moreover those who become caregivers often do not realize what the job entails. There may be a heavy physical requirement from lifting and turning.

The hours and amount of care required may be exorbitant.

The caregiver is often left out of the treatment plan established by the professionals and may have no idea of the full extent of the needs of the person he is helping. There is often nowhere to turn for help.

L’Institut de planification des soins (The Institute of Care Planning) and le Regroupement des aidantes et aidants naturels de Montréal RAANM (the Caregiver Coalition of natural caregivers of Montreal) are non-profit organizations that work to defend the rights of caregivers and improve the conditions of their work and lives.

Their joint report, “Vers la reconnaissance d’un statut légal pour les proches aidants” describes the problems faced by non-professional caregivers. They emphasize the necessity of alleviating some of the problems and offer some suggestions on how to do so.

They are proposing a law to protect the health and wellbeing of caregivers, ensure their burden is not excessive, provide training, ensure they work in an environment adapted to their needs and duties, recognize their rights and alleviate any excessive negative economic effect.

They suggest the creation of government and employer programs to accomplish these goals and that legal recourse and complaint procedures be provided to caregivers should any of their rights under the proposed law be violated.

The proposed law would recognize the right of a person to be fully informed prior to deciding whether or not to become a caregiver, determine what tasks he can perform, become a part of the health team and be given relevant information as to the state of health of the person he is helping.

For purposes of security, he must be taught the techniques he will need to administer the help, and carry out the duties required in all situations, which may arise including emergencies. He must receive training and be evaluated on a regular basis.

He must receive the equipment and materials necessary to carry out his duties safely.

Caregivers must also have access to support and assistance. Their need for relief must be recognized and they must have time for themselves. The health system should not expect them to do everything and limits should be imposed on what they can do, depending on their training and the risks involved.

They should not be placed in a situation where their own physical or mental health is at risk.

Many caregivers suffer financially. The proposed law would recognize that they are entitled to a reasonable standard of living.

Those who are not working should be provided with financial support, their expenses should be paid and they should benefit from certain tax credits, a pension fund and insurance.

Where they have another job, their employers should be required to accommodate their hours, and retain all benefits and social advantages to which they are entitled

Government policy to maintain people in their homes will reduce the costs for health care and social and shelter services while increasing the burden on caregivers and those in need of assistance.

Some of these savings should be used to benefit caregivers in recognition of their indispensable support and to avoid their unjustified impoverishment.

The proposed law attempts to see that this is done. It is to be hoped our legislators agree.

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