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A pause that refreshes caregivers

A Florida group hoping to become a respite-care clearinghouse for stressed caregivers supports legislation.

By SUSAN ASCHOFF, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 11, 2003


Those who shoulder the daunting responsibility of caring full time for a loved one deserve a break and a sane way to get it, say advocates.

Parents, children, spouses and others who care for an ill or handicapped relative or friend often cannot find or afford respite care. Respite care is temporary help, whether for a couple of hours a day or an occasional weekend. Such in-home assistance allows a caregiver to get away from the stresses and return refreshed, and permits many people with significant health issues to remain at home rather than live in a medical facility.

Respite care is one of the most requested health services in the United States. In Florida, dozens of agencies offer some kind of respite care, but thousands in need are on waiting lists.

The challenge is often finding help.

"We want the legislature to recognize that we want a statewide respite system," says Laura Alexander, development director for the Florida Respite Coalition. The nonprofit Winter Park-based group is seeking state designation as the coordinating agency for Florida.

In a Tampa townhall meeting last month and in earlier sessions in other cities, Florida Respite Coalition recruited support from elected officials and care providers for the Lifespan Respite Care Act. The bill, pending this session in Tallahassee, would recognize the need for respite care and fund the coalition to coordinate efforts statewide.

The coalition also wants to devise standards for training and screening respite workers.

Alexander says the group's five regional offices and its five-year history make it a logical choice to make respite care "one-stop shopping" for weary families.

A similar bill is pending in the U.S. Congress.

Few predict significant state or federal funds will be allocated during this lean budget year. But family caregiving is so universal that elected officials will remain supportive, advocates predict.

"Everyone is touched by the need for some kind of caregiving sometime in their life," says Mike Cornelius, past president of the coalition and director of homecare services at Advance Ability Solutions, formerly United Cerebral Palsy, in Tampa.

Respite care serves everyone from infants to the elderly, dealing with AIDS to Alzheimer's. As respite care evolves from grass-roots activism to a more sophisticated network of services, coalition members say they want government to support their efforts to first talk to each other, then to the people who need a little help to keep on giving.

For more information

Call the Florida Respite Coalition toll-free at 1-866-357-3543 or go to www.floridarespite.org.

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