New spouse-as-caregiver bill gives families more options

Jeanne Leyden is a registered nurse and director of Adult Family Care

Caring for a loved one who requires daily assistance can be challenging. Medicaid recognizes this by providing great programs designed to support family caregivers. Unfortunately, some of those programs are not available for caregiver spouses here in Massachusetts.

A proposal known as S28 seeks to change that. Properly titled an Act Allowing Spouses to Serve as Caregivers, S28 would allow spouses to receive support from home and community-based services funded by MassHealth, the Commonwealth’s Medicaid program. Fifteen other states already allow similar measures, and we would like Massachusetts to join that list.

Passage of this bill would allow spouses to participate in wonderful programs such as Adult Foster Care and Personal Care Attendant. It would give families that want to provide in-home care more options. For that reason, we very much hope it passes through the legislative process and becomes law.

There is some cause for optimism: The senate Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities recently gave the bill a favorable report, recommending its passage. It is a nice first step, but in order to become law, it must pass the House, Senate, and be approved by the governor.

I would like to thank Senator Jo Comerford, of Northampton, for sponsoring this bill. Another supporter is Mass Home Care, which works with elder service agencies across the state to promote the quality of life for older adults in Massachusetts. Making the case for S28 in front of the senate committee earlier this year, Mass Home Care Director Lisa Gurgone said the state is “facing a significant crisis in our ability to recruit and retain enough home care workers to meet the needs of older adults and persons with disabilities.” She also noted that 10,000 Americans reach age 65 every day, saying it’s vital we provide the safety net and services that Massachusetts residents need.

We wholeheartedly agree.

Adult Foster Care is an important component of that safety net, providing compensation, training, and paid time off for caregivers assisting eligible family members who cannot live alone. It’s a great program that recognizes and addresses the key challenges of caregiving. Being a spouse doesn’t make you an expert on caregiving. Nor does it release you from financial obligations or make you immune to caregiver burnout. For those reasons and more, I would very much like to see this and other programs become an option for caregiver spouses.

If you agree, please consider contacting your senator or state representative, to respectfully ask that they consider supporting S28. The need is real. Together we can provide more options for families that want to provide the best care at home.

Jeanne Leyden is an RN and director of Adult Family Care, a non-profit program at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services that helps people receive in-home care across the Greater Boston, North Shore, and Merrimack Valley areas. For more information, visit or call 617-628-2601.