From Caregiving to Caregiver: Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter Strengthens Effort to Better Advocate for Caregivers

AMERICUS, GEORGIA – Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter today marked the conclusion of National Family Caregivers Month with a major announcement about the institute that bears her name. The Rosalynn Carter Institute is moving to strengthen its mission – and its name – to place the unpaid caregiver at the center of its work, including calling for a robust public health strategy to support them. 

The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers – previously “for Caregiving” – is setting a new path to better champion the needs of caregivers by building cross-sector partnerships, promoting evidence-based programs, and advocating for more responsive public policy.

“It’s been more than 80 years since my father and my grandmother died, forcing my mother to assume the role of primary caregiver for our family. And while society has advanced markedly, little has changed for our nation’s unpaid family caregivers,” said former First Lady Rosalynn Carter. “For most, it is a rewarding and fulfilling endeavor; yet it often requires great personal sacrifice of time, energy, and income. We must recognize the tremendous contributions of caregivers, especially during this pandemic, and develop an effective public health strategy to support them.” 

Established in 1987, RCI remains rooted in former First Lady Carter’s belief that there are four types of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, who are caregivers, who will be caregivers, or who will need caregivers. Since its founding, RCI has continuously evolved to promote the health, strength, and resilience of the more than 53 million Americans providing unpaid care for their loved ones.

“It’s time to change the conversation around caregiving and caregivers. We are excited to announce this next chapter to reach more caregivers, in more ways,” said Dr. Jennifer Olsen, Executive Director of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers. “Our founder, Mrs. Carter, often reminds us that we must simultaneously consider populations, policy, and practice, while continuing to learn from the individual caregiver to guide our work. It is our goal to work at this intersection and bring both sides together to create broad-scale systems change.”

In October, RCI outlined the urgent need for this move in its seminal report, Recalibrating for Caregivers: Recognizing the Public Health Challenge. This detailed report calls for a comprehensive public health approach to caregiver health and well-being. Without targeted strategies and systems to support America’s already vulnerable informal caregiver community, caregivers will remain at great risk, with long-term repercussions for our nation’s health and economy.

In comparison to other issues commonly accepted as public health challenges – such as the 23 million Americans who have been diagnosed with cancer and 34 million who smoke cigarettes – the report points to significantly fewer resources dedicated to awareness and investment in America’s 53 million caregivers. 

“Caregivers are the invisible frontline. They are the scaffolding on which our health care system is built, and with so many of these lives at risk, we must do more – and act faster – to treat caregiving as a social determinant of health,” continued Olsen, a trained epidemiologist. “Caregiving can bring happiness, but without the proper supports, it can also be stressful and isolating. The COVID-19 pandemic has made those challenges clearer than ever, and the moment is now to shift the conversation and realign our priorities.”

During the pandemic, many caregivers have been cut off from traditional supports and sources of respite. These challenges are particularly acute along racial and income lines, with minority and low-income caregivers at increased risk of negative impacts due to caregiving. RCI surveyed more than 400 caregivers across 46 states about these impacts in summer 2020. The resulting report, Caregivers in Crisis, showed that the vast majority of responding caregivers – 83 percent – reported increased caregiving-related stress since the start of the pandemic.

Caregivers in Crisis outlined the problem, and Recalibrating for Caregivers pivots to solutions. Recalibrating offers a roadmap for the future of RCI, which today also launches a new website with a refreshed brand mark and color scheme.  In particular, the long solid bar in the updated brand mark was designed to represent a support beam. This is what RCI aims to do: provide support for our nation’s caregivers and to advocate for the strengthening of support beams across government, business, and the community.

“Nothing short of a systems-level approach will suffice when it comes to supporting and advocating for caregivers,” Olsen concluded. “Caring for caregivers has value for our nation’s health, and economy, and as we look to build back better from COVID-19, I truly believe that this is our moment to drive change for caregivers and beyond.”

About RCI: The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers promotes the health, strength, and resilience of caregivers throughout the United States. Established in 1987 by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, the Institute’s priority is the unpaid family caregiver: those individuals who care for a relative, friend, or loved one. To learn more about RCI, its advocacy, how to participate in programs or build a partnership, visit www.rosalynncarter.org

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