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A ‘311’ for stressed-out families
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A ‘311’ for stressed-out families

Alyson Kaplan directs the JFS of MetroWest’s Care Consultation phone and e-mail service, providing support and advice for caregivers. 
Alyson Kaplan directs the JFS of MetroWest’s Care Consultation phone and e-mail service, providing support and advice for caregivers. 

The questions Alyson Kaplan faces from caregivers can involve life and death issues, or can be as seemingly simple as where to find appropriate recipes for a loved one on dialysis.

As director of Jewish Family Service of MetroWest’s new Care Consultation service, Kaplan welcomes them all.

“If I don’t know the answer already or can’t find it with some research, I know who to refer them to, to get the answers they need,” she said.

According to a 2010 study by the Caregivers of NJ advocacy group, about 30,000 adult children in the state are providing primary care for a parent, grandparent, or sibling. Providing that help can be profoundly stressful. Research by the Rosalynn Carter Institute of Caregiving found that caregivers, on average, die 12 to 15 years earlier than non-caregivers.

With that in view, JFS of MetroWest decided to find a way to support caregivers who can’t readily get to the agency’s offices. In November 2012, Kaplan was brought on board to set up the phone and e-mail service. The timing was particularly apt — given that November is designated National Caregivers Month.

The program — initially funded with a seed grant from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey and now funded for a second year — went into operation in March. It is free and available to anyone in its service area providing care to a person 65 or over wherever that person lives, or to caregivers outside the area caring for someone living within it.

JFS, which is a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, covers Morris, Essex, Sussex, and parts of Union and Hudson counties. Older adults coping with physical and mental health challenges of their own can also call in for help, and those below 65 are considered on a case-by-case basis.

Kaplan said the service is based on a model created by the Benjamin Rose Institute for Aging in Cleveland, and that it has been implemented in 10 other states. The results — like reduced caregiver burnout, delayed nursing home placement, and fewer hospital admissions — have earned it recognition from the National Council on Aging, the Rosalynn Carter Institute, and the American Society on Aging.

“For that woman whose husband is on dialysis, I went on line and found some suitable recipes,” Kaplan said. “She doesn’t use a computer, so I printed them and mailed them to her. She was delighted.”

Another case involved a daughter in her 60s with a mother in her 80s. “Her mother was in rehab after having a stroke,” Kaplan said. “She was worried how her mother would cope after she went home, or if she would need care at home. We were able to find an affordable assisted-living facility near her where her mother can get help with nutrition and medication, and have social contact.”

Kaplan has a master of social work degree with a certificate in aging, and a master in health service administration with a concentration in long-term care. She worked as a call center manager, as coordinator of community outreach services for a hospital, and as special events and public relations coordinator for the New York City chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Sometimes, Kaplan said, what people need most is proof that they are not alone. “Just knowing that JFS is there eases the pressure,” she said, and that there is “someone there to partner with them and provide emotional support and reassure them that they will get through this.”

She works from Tuesday through Friday, and is committed to returning calls within 24 hours, unless someone calls on a Friday.

JFS of MetroWest executive director Reuben Rotman said the agency was looking to build on its past experience providing support for caregivers.

“The whole philosophy revolves around empowering caregivers and acknowledging their time and accessibility needs. Each of them also has a unique situation, and this allows for them to receive information tailored specifically to them. We have had a great response, and our clients have been very appreciative.”

To access the JFS MetroWest Care Consultation service, contact Kaplan at 973-765-9050, ext. 1705, or akaplan@jfsmetrowest.org.

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