Eldercare, childcare, your cares, Penn cares

Margaret Ann Morris’ mother, now 75 years old, was ill and was living by herself in a big house up in Binghamton, N.Y. Morris is the associate editor of Almanac, the weekly publication of the Faculty Senate.

Efforts to get her mother to face the issues and make some decisions were frustrating.

“There were days we were tearing our hair out,” Morris said. “We couldn’t get my mother to move on anything.”

Morris turned to the University’s LifeBalance program. The service — in this case a counselor who specialized in eldercare issues — was free and confidential. “The thing that was best was I got to talk to someone who said, The way you’re feeling is not crazy.”

LifeBalance is designed to help workers solve problems like finding childcare or schools, caring for children with special needs, even facing an empty nest or coping with grief and loneliness. “It helps people be more productive and less distracted by personal challenges,” said Marilyn Kraut, Quality of Worklife manager in the Department of Human Resources. The University contracts with Ceridian, a company that provides employee-assistance programs, for the LifeBalance benefit.

Besides individual counseling, the services include tip sheets, e-mail newsletters, referrals to resources, audiotapes and workshops. Some recent on-campus workshops included “Considering Adoption” and “Navigating the School System When You Think Your Child Has a Learning Disability.”

Available to University employees for the past five years, LifeBalance got heavy use this past year, with almost 1,600 Penn employees or 15 percent of the total, taking advantage of the benefit, Kraut said.

Childcare-related services were by far the most used, with 60 percent of the 1,600 using them. Thirteen percent used services for basic school and education issues, Kraut said. And 10 percent used eldercare services.

Phyllis Holtzman, deputy director of communications, found the stress from trying to care for her elderly parents overwhelming and decided to take advantage of LifeBalance’s counseling.

“A lot of my thinking was clouded by guilt and emotions and pressures from others. She helped me understand how much I was doing that was right.” Holtzman said the counselor helped her realize that her husband and son, 9 years old at the time, were her first priority. But the counseling also helped her realize she had to make decisions for her mother. “It was incredibly helpful to me.” And it was easy to arrange, she said. “I just made a phone call.”

To reach LifeBalance, call 888-203-6847. Their Website is www.lifeworks.com/index.cfm, or navigate there via www.hr.upenn.edu.

The people interviewed in this story volunteered that they had used the LifeBalance service.


Originally published on May 31, 2001