Twelve years ago, Kathy Good and her husband, Dave, were looking forward to the adventures of retirement together – Dave was a district court judge; Kathy was a therapist and licensed social worker.
“Dave started having vision problems,” Kathy recalls. “He was having trouble reading jury instructions. He got new glasses; he had cataract surgery, all to no avail. Eventually it was determined by a neural ophthalmologist that he had something called the visual variant of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Alzheimer’s disease – he was 56 years old.
Suddenly, both of their lives changed dramatically. Kathy began plans to care for David in their home – she became a family caregiver. Caregivers are often thrust into their new roles unexpectedly, with no understanding of services available or how to navigate the systems they’ll encounter.
Kathy was fortunate; she had a background in social work and knew where to start. Using her professional know-how, she assembled what she called the “committee” (services that helped Dave remain independent at home). She considered herself very lucky to have had the means to create a support system for Dave – she knew a vast majority of family caregivers had no help at all. She carried the thought of those caregivers with her as Dave’s needs changed and she adapted to meet those needs for over a decade before he passed in May 2015.
Today, she is well-known in the Cedar Rapids community as a resource for family caregivers. This prompted Tim Charles, Mercy Medical Center-Cedar Rapids President and CEO, to call upon her for insights into an idea for a new program – a community-focused family caregivers center that would offer a wide range of services to improve the overall well-being of family members caring for a chronically ill loved one.
“The stress of caring for someone with a chronic condition like Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart problems –all chronic diseases – can cause caregivers to be depressed and anxious, to develop their own chronic conditions,” Kathy states. “They may have weakened immune systems. They may be at risk for their own mental decline. That’s just a few of the major things that could happen to a family caregiver when they start having to live life for, in essence, two people.”
She jumped at the opportunity to help other caregivers.
Since 2014 she has dedicated hundreds of hours to research, workshops and networking to bring the idea of a family caregivers center to life. She has met with caregivers to talk about their needs and human service agencies to talk about their existing support systems, determining gaps in services and formulating a plan to bridge those gaps through the center, ensuring services are not duplicated.
The Family Caregivers Center of Mercy is the product of her work – a unique, first-in-the-state initiative that will be funded through generous gifts to the Mercy Foundation’s Family Caregivers Center Endowment. October 2015 kicked off the foundation’s fundraising efforts with the goal of raising $2.5 million to fully endow the center. A full endowment means the center can offer services at little-to-no cost to the caregiver – a critical need.
The innovative center will be one of the few in the nation (and the only one in Iowa) using a community-based model, meaning that no matter where a loved one receives care – home, assisted living or hospital – the caregiver can find support. Some components of the Family Caregivers Center of Mercy include respite care; therapeutic outlets of journaling, massage and art; along with a 24/7 care line to answer any kind of question the caregiver might have. A resource library will be available and education sessions will be held on a variety of topics. The center celebrated its opening in December 2015.