New U.Va. Backup Care Benefit Aims to Ease Stress

July 28, 2008 -- Julie Richardson's 91-year-old father Kenneth Witten lives with her, her husband and two children. After a serious fall earlier this month, Witten needed some help to make sure he took his pain medication every two to four hours, with food.

A new backup care benefit for University of Virginia employees enabled Richardson to arrange in-home care for him on four consecutive weekdays, until his pain had subsided, for a co-pay of $30 per day. She was able to return to work.

"This is a tremendous benefit," Richardson, a senior treasury analyst at U.Va., said. "So many times you hear about someone who is trying to juggle work obligations and family obligations. It's peace of mind knowing that if you're in a bind, there are options."

Reducing stress for employees is exactly the goal of the new benefit, available to academic division employees as of July 1, Susan Carkeek, vice president and chief human resources officer, explained

The new benefit provides temporary care for all ages — children, parents, spouses or any other loved one, whether healthy or mildly ill — either in the home or at child care centers or adult care centers.

Every benefit-eligible employee can use up to 10 days of backup care per calendar year for a $15 co-pay (per person) for center-based care, or a $30 co-pay for in-home care, which covers up to three dependents. Both daily rates cover up to 10 hours of care, and services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by simply calling 800-557-0847, or submitting a request through the backup care Web site.

Because the benefit started July 1 — midway through the calendar year — academic division employees have an allotment of five days for the remaining six months of 2008.  The Health System began offering this benefit on March 1, and eligible Health System employees are entitled to the full 10 days of care during the 2008 calendar year.

The benefit is administered by an outside vendor called Work Options Group, which provides the care through contracted local providers — either state-licensed child care centers and adult care centers, or experienced home care professionals who are licensed and insured, background-checked and trained in first aid and CPR.

At present, the local network of contracted care providers includes five child care centers; JABA's Adult Day Healthcare Center, which serves the elderly and adults with special needs, and four agencies providing in-home care, according to Christine Kratz, a manager with Work Options Group. The network is expected to change over time, and may be expanded to meet increased demand.

Work Options Group requires four hours to fulfill a care request, "but some of the time we can get it done earlier than that," Kratz said. She added that care always depends on the availability of the local providers, so it can't be guaranteed.

The low co-pays mean the out-of-pocket costs for in-home care are the equivalent of less than $4 an hour, or less than $2 per hour for center-based care, Carkeek said. And the fact that Work Options Group has a nationwide network of about 5,000 care providers means that employees can arrange child care while traveling across the country, or set up in-home care for a parent in a distant place.

"We had nothing like this in the past, and I'm very excited we can offer it," Carkeek said. "Our goal with this benefit is to reduce stress, so employees can have one less thing to worry about."

Several employees who have already used the new benefit expressed their satisfaction with the quality of care.

Richardson's family had hired in-home care for her father in the past, "so he has a basis for comparison, and he was very, very happy with the ladies that came out," she noted.

Laurissa Kashmer, a pediatric endocrinology fellow at the Medical Center, has two children, ages 1 and 3, and used the new benefit to arrange in-home care for them. The provider, named Clarissa, "was excellent, especially with my older daughter," Kashmer said. "My kids loved her. She even tidied up after she got the girls to bed — that was huge — that made my weekend.

The service "seriously decreases the stress in my life," she added. "I was on the phone so much trying to find babysitters every time I need to work a night or weekend, it was pitiful."

Judith Woodfolk, an associate professor at the Asthma and Allergic Diseases Center, lives in rural Louisa County with her working husband and three children. The Woodfolks have a pool of babysitters, most of whom are busy with other jobs during the normal work week and can't make it out to their house on short notice. Woodfolk was pleasantly surprised when Work Options Group lined up in-home care for her within two hours of her call..

The provider ended up caring for her three children for the full 10 hours allowed, which works out to $3 an hour in out-of-pocket costs, Woodfolk noted.

"Aside from the great convenience, the affordability is wonderful — much cheaper than I could ever do with a babysitter, and the more kids the better for in-home care. It’s a phenomenal rate." She anticipates using the service again when her kids have occasional days off from school. The service is "invaluable for working mothers such as myself," Woodfolk said.

"We really pride ourselves on taking good care of people's loved ones," Kratz said. "It's not just providing care; it's providing good care, so the employee can have a good day at work because they're not worried about the quality of care back home."

Employees are encouraged to pre-register with Work Options Group and provide information that will streamline the process of setting up care – information like the names of children or parents, special diet needs, allergies, medical care requirements, household rules, etc. Registration requires the nine-digit University ID number printed on the front of University ID cards.

When submitting a request to Work Options Group, employees are welcome to ask for a particular provider, or suggest that one be added to the local network of contracted providers, Kratz said. After an employee has been matched with a care provider through the service, there are no rules against making private arrangements with that provider for further care, she added. Any private arrangements would be entirely separate from the backup care benefit.

If employees use up their 10 days of care per calendar year, they may purchase more care from Work Options Group at the unsubsidized rates of $125 per day for center-based care and $280 per day for in-home care.

"There aren't many universities in the country offering this benefit," Carkeek said. "We're proud of being on the leading edge."

For additional information or questions, visit the new benefits Web page, a page with common questions answered, or contact the Office of Employee Benefits at 924-4392 or hrdept@virginia.edu.

— By Brevy Cannon