CORONAVIRUS

Cedar Rapids center helps caregivers in tough times

Family Caregivers Center marks 5-year milestone

Rob Cook of Cedar Rapids serves Dec. 15 as co-facilitator for a weekly virtual Male Caregiver Coffee at the Mercy Family
Rob Cook of Cedar Rapids serves Dec. 15 as co-facilitator for a weekly virtual Male Caregiver Coffee at the Mercy Family Caregivers Center in Cedar Rapids. The meetup had been monthly and in-person, but was shifted online due to coronavirus concerns and became a weekly virtual gathering in April. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The Family Caregivers Center of Mercy has reached its five-year anniversary in a tumultuous year that has forced the organization, like many other service providers, to adjust to the needs of its clients while grappling with the ongoing pandemic.

Despite this challenges of this year, the center — which remains the only comprehensive caregiver’s center in the state — has made adjustments as a result of COVID-19 that may allow its services to have an even broader reach across Iowa.

“We will probably never go back to not using Zoom, even when we get to the point where we can have in-person events here at the center,” said Kathy Good, the center’s director. “That allows long-distance caregivers for anyone throughout the country to be able to access the educational events of support groups that are happening in Cedar Rapids.”

The Family Caregivers Center, 901 Eighth Ave. SE, was developed by Good to support those who provide care for aging parents, spouse with chronic medical conditions, children with disabilities or other loved ones with care needs. It officially opened in December 2015.

The effort to develop the community-focused project began in 2014, with encouragement from Mercy Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Tim Charles.

The center is funded through the Mercy Foundation, which raised $2.6 million in mid-2015 to launch the initiative to the broader community. Its services, which are free to participants, are dependent on donors.

To date, the Family Caregivers Center has interacted with more than 1,200 caregivers in Eastern Iowa. Its engagement specialists are estimated to have had more than 3,000 one-on-one interactions with caregivers over five years.

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The center, which employs only three people, relies on volunteers. Since 2015, over 160 volunteers have donated more than 34,000 hours.

Good had been a caregiver for her late husband, Dave Good, for more than a decade. He had been living with Alzheimer’s disease before his death in 2015.

Good, who also had a background in social work, knew how isolating the role can be.

And being a caregiver in 2020 has compounded that loneliness and isolation. Not only has it been a challenge for some caregivers to find relief through respite care, but they’re also worried about their loved one’s health and their risk for becoming infected.

“There’s that emotional aspect to caregiving that has been exacerbated by COVID-19,” Good said.

The derecho and the damage it caused to many residents’ homes has also introduced an additional stress.

In early March, Good said the center quickly pivoted its model to continue services by moving them to virtual platforms, including its four support groups that switched to Zoom.

Meetings with one support group, Male Caregiver Coffee, had previously been once a month. But Good said effects of the pandemic prompted the group to meet more often.

As a result of the emotional turmoil this year has brought, Good said officials are working to introduce follow-up phone calls with every caregiver who interacts with the center to ensure he or she has access to the resources needed.

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“At the center, we can help get connected with resources, but then sometimes it’s harder to call back when you’re in the midst of kind of things not working very well,” Good said. “But if somebody reaches out to you, it’s a reinforcement that the center is here and then sometimes it’s easier.”

The center also on the path to expand services.

The Family Caregiver Center will offer outreach services at Mercy’s new senior living facility that’s set to be completed by fall 2022. HallMar Village, which will replace the hospital’s residential care facility, will be a 237-unit complex in northeast Cedar Rapids that also will house other services and programs for seniors.

And with the further push for virtual events that can be accessible to anyone outside of Cedar Rapids, Good believes the center will be able to continue to evolve.

“Just as we were innovative five years ago in getting started, we will continue to be innovative in things we try for caregivers who are caring for people with all kinds of conditions,” she said.

Comments: (319) 398-8469; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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