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Caregiving an under-the-radar issue in Oregon election

With the election a little over a month away, some say caregiving and long-term care are issues too big for candidates in Oregon to ignore.

There are about 460,000 family caregivers in the state providing $5.7 billion of unpaid care, according to a 2017 estimate.

Yvonne Smith, a faculty member at Clackamas Community College, said some people may not even realize they are caregivers.

"For example, if you are helping someone manage their medications if you're doing someone's grocery shopping if you're checking in on them and helping them go through their mail," Smith outlined. "Those are all caregiving activities."

Smith pointed out that despite the numbers, Oregon is in need of more caregivers, especially with the avalanche of Baby Boomers retiring in the coming years. She added people need more resources.

"We don't have enough," Smith contended. "In fact, we don't have almost any programs to support in-home caregivers."

Smith explained Oregon has applied for a Medicaid waiver to ensure family caregivers can get breaks through respite care. She also noted professional caregiving from people who are not family members or friends is low-paying, although it is beginning to change with recent unionization efforts in the industry.

Fred Steele, Oregon's long-term care ombudsman, agreed the state is in need of more workers.

"There is a significant workforce shortage across the state for caregiving," Steele observed. "Whether it be in in-home settings, but particularly in our long-term care settings."

Steele emphasized the issues caregivers face, especially in long-term facilities, have garnered more attention since the pandemic began. He stressed it is most important to ensure workers have the training, wages, and benefits they need to do their job successfully and support themselves.


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