Caregiver registry seeks to fill need amid pandemic

COVID-19 shrinks pool of available helpers

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BENNINGTON — More than 1,000 elderly residents in Bennington and Rutland counties depend on the Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging to guide them in making crucial everyday decisions. Case managers help them apply for public benefits, solve problems with Medicare and find caregivers.

Finding caregivers has been a long-running challenge because of Vermont's graying population, according to the nonprofit organization. But the need became more pronounced during the coronavirus pandemic, when social-distancing requirements shrank the number of available caregivers.

Some had to stop working to care for their children when the state ordered day care centers and schools to shut in an effort to slow the virus's spread. Other caregivers became ill and had to self-isolate.

"There's a whole bunch of those caregivers that actually couldn't work," said Jennifer Plouffe, SVCOA's aging services director for Bennington County, "so it's a pool that was already pretty small and made it much, much smaller."

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SVCOA is now building a registry that seeks to connect residents in its service areas with a wider network of caregivers. The organization is aiming to launch the new service on June 1, with a list of at least 25 caregivers for each county, Plouffe said.

According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, in 2018, there were around 10,500 people age 60 and older in Bennington County. This is nearly a third of the county's population of 35,900.

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Information on the caregiver registry will include where and when a caregiver is available to work, as well as what type of services the person can provide. Caregiver services include taking clients to their doctor's appointments, helping them maintain personal hygiene, cooking meals, substituting for their primary caregiver and keeping seniors company.

Caregivers who want to be part of the registry will undergo a background check on whether they have a criminal conviction and have been substantiated for abuse, neglect and/or exploitation of a vulnerable adult. Results of the background check will be provided to potential clients, Plouffe said.

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Besides helping seniors, the registry would also provide employment opportunities to area residents, especially those who have lost steady income during the pandemic.

"It's a potential opportunity for folks to become employed," Plouffe said.

Caregivers who would like to be added to the registry — as well as people wanting to find caregivers through the registry — can call the SVCOA HelpLine at 802-786-5990 or the Vermont Senior Helpline at 800-642-5119.

Contact Tiffany Tan at ttan@benningtonbanner.com or @tiffgtan on Facebook and Twitter.


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