The emergency arrived when Jenna Lynn Schoeneman's father failed to pass his driver's test.
He was 89, and determined to continue to drive. But after retaking the test six times without a stamp of approval, "he was crushed," and Schoeneman had a problem that needed solving fast. How was she going to get her father in Fort Myers, Fla., to everything - including doctors' appointments and the grocery store - when she lived almost 1,300 miles away in Chicago?
Being at his side was no option for the 57-year-old attorney with two children and a husband. She is a classic member of the sandwich generation, juggling the logistics, money demands and angst of caring for children, a job, and an aging parent simultaneously. And she has the classic problem of many in her generation: How to care for a struggling parent when no number of airplane trips back and forth will provide for his growing daily needs.
The dilemma is so demanding that AARP has been pressing for anti-discrimination policies to protect people in jobs who must assist an aging parent or other family member.
"Family caregivers who are in the labor force risk losing their status as trusted workers - or even their jobs - due to bias," AARP says.
Although Schoeneman's father was swimming in the ocean each day, he was bruised from frequent falls and was having increasing difficulty staying on top of bills. Assisted living was out of the question, said Schoeneman. Her father had always been king of the household, and "he wasn't about to give up easily."
Schoeneman solved the problem by turning to one of the unique new websites that are springing up - companies such as Carelinx and CareFamily.com. They give people around the country a place to go to find a caregiver even when they are hundreds of miles away.
For seniors with greater needs, the CareFamily site will provide names of nurses or nursing assistants. Some caregivers can be live-in, providing 24-hour care. Others work hourly. The firm has registered caregivers in 23 states and is expanding into new areas.
The companies, which incorporate some of the features of dating service Match.com, allow people to go online and find a "match" for a parent. Schoeneman was looking for a companion, or a person who could help her father a couple of days a week - driving him to appointments, drugstores and grocery stores, and sorting through paperwork for bills while doing some light housekeeping.
The match was a former hairdresser in her 60s, who had moved to Fort Myers to be close to her son and grandson and "was looking for something to do" a few hours a week, said Schoeneman. Her father chose the former hairdresser after interviewing two of five potential candidates suggested by CareFamily.
Tom Knox, founder of CareFamily, says he does background checks on each caregiver, provides a list to families, and the family then interviews people and makes a choice.
Families employ the individual rather than contracting with an agency that selects caregivers. But CareFamily deals with withholding tax and other paperwork that can be a headache to handle. Without the administration of a typical home health-care agency, Knox says families can often get a caregiver at a lower price, and caregivers make more money than they would likely take home if they were working for a typical agency.
The average cost nationally for a caregiver from an agency is about $21 to $22 an hour, or a shocking $7,900 a month if care is needed 12 hours a day. That's a tremendous drain on family savings. Knox says his caregivers average $12 to $14 an hour, which is still a drain, but perhaps more palatable than the alternative. At CareFamily, however, the family members are free to offer the hourly rate they think is appropriate early in the matching process. Whatever the hourly rate, $2 an hour goes to CareFamily.
Some families try to find a more affordable caregiver through Craigslist, but the family is then responsible for computing taxes and handling other paperwork, such as long-term care insurance forms, on their own. CareFamily's caregivers are bonded, and if there is a no-show or a sick caregiver on a particular day, a substitute is provided.
"There is less chaos," Knox said.
Gail MarksJarvis is a personal finance columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org