When Dini Dimakos Shevchenko is talking to a caregiver about the program she helps run through Hills of Headwaters Collaborative Ontario Health Team, she always asks the person how they are doing.
“They will often get emotional and tell me that no one ever asks them that,” she said.
The local health team is trying to get recognition and respect for the unpaid caregivers in the community.
It’s a need that was identified even before the group was established in Caledon and Dufferin.
Heidi Vanderhorst said the idea came out of a working group of local patients and their families in 2019.
“This was before the COVID pandemic,” she explains, noting the need to support caregivers is even greater now.
Caregivers in the Hills program is free for unpaid caregivers to register and receive an ID badge.
The purpose is to validate and recognize their role.
“We want them to be able to support the person they love in various different health and social service settings without being questioned,” Vanderhorst explained.
At the same time, the group has been working with local health care professionals to make them aware of the badge and what it means.
Along with using the ID at hospitals and in other health care settings, caregivers can use them to get discounts and perks at participating local businesses.
The program launched during the pandemic — which Vanderhorst said was difficult because front line workers were already overwhelmed dealing with COVID.
“We knew it was important to get the program going though, so we went ahead,” she said. “Unpaid caregivers have a huge role in our health care system. They know their loved one better than anyone. And often, they are putting their own needs to the side.”
So far about 100 caregivers have signed up for a badge.
There are estimated to be 3.2 million unpaid caregivers in Ontario.
Shevchenko said a caregiver is anyone looking after someone who can’t advocate for themselves.
They could be a parent with an adult child with a disability, a child supporting their parent with cancer, or even a young parent who might not always be easily recognized as the primary caregiver of their children.
“Our goal is to keep people at home and with their loved ones as long as possible,” said Shevchenko. “We’re here to link caregivers to the resources they might not know about.”
The program was modelled after a similar program in Britain.
It’s the first of its kind in Canada but the collaborative hopes other communities copy the idea.
“It’s a rewarding program to be a part of,” said Shevchenko. “Caregivers are so devoted to those they love. They are so selfless.”