Spotlight 2021 – The Impact of Covid-19 on Caregivers: Year Two

As caregivers ourselves and hearing from thousands of caregivers across the province, it is clear the past 18 months have been some of the most challenging. If there is anything positive to come from a pandemic, it is the expanded understanding of what caregivers do and why they are essential partners in care.   

We often talk about the contribution caregivers make to the person they care for, but their contribution to Ontario’s health care system cannot be ignored. Caregivers care for patients before and after a range of treatments and on an ongoing basis for those with chronic or long-term conditions.  Caregivers hold important knowledge about medical history and enable people to age in their home, which is where they want to be. They are often the bridge between the family member or friend and healthcare providers, and they play a vital role at all stages of treatment, mitigating risk and supporting the best patient outcomes. Based on the hours they invest, and even just using minimum wage, we cannot ignore that their contributions total between 30-40 billion dollars per year.     

We also cannot ignore that as we approach the two-year mark of Covid-19, most caregivers are now dealing with their own challenges, in particular their mental health. This report looks at the impact of the pandemic on caregivers now, compared to the year prior, and the findings while not surprising, are alarming. At this point in the pandemic, 58% of Ontario’s 3.3 million caregivers say they feel burnt out.

The pandemic has made the role of the family caregiver harder than it has ever been before. More caregivers this year are investing 10 or more hours a week providing care. More caregivers say they feel exhausted, overwhelmed, worried, and trapped. Half say their mental health is worse than last year. The majority who work say they struggle to balance their job and caregiving responsibilities. The financial impact is also greater than previous years and a third have thought about quitting their job to be more available to the care recipient. Outside of the day-to-day responsibilities, caregivers worry about the future of health care, specifically the shortage of personal support workers and nurses. Part of what has made their role harder is that caregivers say they are providing the kind of care typically provided by these professionals.   

This year, the Spotlight Report is expanded to include commentary from caregivers. While the data shows the reality of the caregiving role clearly, hearing the authentic caregiver voice drives home the extent of the impact. It is our hope that this report will inspire all of us to consider the needs of caregivers, not just in the context of being successful in their caregiving role, but as people who are struggling to cope. We encourage health care leaders, front line care providers, employers, managers, family members and friends to think about what you can do to help a caregiver. At the end of this report, we’ve provided practical ideas that can make a difference.

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