How Five States Are Supporting Family Caregivers

Milbank State Leadership Network The Health of Aging Populations State Health Policy Leadership

Family and unpaid caregivers play a foundational role in the care of older adults with complex health needs and disabling conditions. In an effort to support caregivers and meet the needs of aging populations, some states are explicitly working to better support family caregivers through policies and programs.

In a new report cosponsored by The John A. Hartford Foundation and the Milbank Memorial Fund, Jennifer Aufill, Julia Burgdorf, and Jennifer Wolff of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health highlight five states—Washington, Hawaii, Maine, Minnesota, and Tennessee—that have advanced policies and programs in support of family caregivers.

The authors identify common themes across these geographically and politically diverse states and suggest state policymakers consider the following as they attempt to support family caregivers:

  • Take time to test new approaches; there is value in sustained incrementalism. Flexible funding and iterative development, refinement, and pilot testing of innovative approaches are pivotal to capacity building and systems change.
  • Assess caregivers’ experience. Tailoring service interventions or initiating appropriate referrals requires an understanding of each individual situation.
  • Increase the awareness and visibility of caregivers. Caregivers often do not identify themselves as people who need services.
  • Support the aging network. Comprising state and local agencies, the network provides services and supports to older adults.
  • Support cross-sector integration at the local level while recognizing challenges. Integrate financing, information systems, and service delivery to coordinate across health plans and service providers.

“Conceptualizing and defining the success of coordinated population-based strategies to support the nation’s caregiving families will be a critical element in policies to support aging Americans in the decades to come,” the authors say.