Newport News VA - There are four kinds of people, said former First Lady Rosalynn Carter via video address at an award ceremony Monday for a group of innovators at Riverside Health System.

"People who have been a caregiver, those who are caregivers right now, those who will be and those who need a caregiver."

The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving created the "Caring for Me, Caring for You" program in 1996 and in 2009, introduced it to Virginia through Riverside Health System's Center for Excellence in Aging and Lifelong Health (CEALH) in Williamsburg.

This week, the Virginia Commonwealth Council on Aging awarded Riverside CEALH the 2013 Best Practices Award for Carter's program and its impact on Virginia.

Awards committee chair Dr. Richard Lindsay presented Dr. Christine Jensen of CEALH with the 2013 Best Practices Award, saying, "Caregivers today are doing many of the things professional staff used to do…and this program is the cornerstone of training informal caregivers."

Times have changed, Lindsay said, adding that Riverside's adaptations to meet those needs are "an upgrade to caregiving at the right time."

As Americans age, the need for informal and volunteer caregiving increased rapidly. According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, more than 300 million people serve as caregivers in the U.S., with more than 7.8 million of them living and working in Virginia.

 "The program was a real eye-opener on issues of caregiving," Dr. Jensen said, reading a comment from a program participant. "It is wonderful that your agency is reaching out to those of us who often feel are simply all alone."

Caregiving can be an isolating experience, Dr. Jensen said, but the "Caring for You, Caring for Me" program offers tools to connect.

"This program is really a skills building program, and focuses on caregiver self-assessment, for them to ensure they know what they can reasonably do," Dr. Jensen said. "It's amazing how many people don't know what resources are out there."

The Riverside CEALH efforts have gained support over the years and plans are in place for expanding it to Richmond and Northern Virginia.

Former First Lady Rosalyn Carter congratulated the award recipients via video and shared a touching story of her own experience in family caregiving for her father and grandfather. She also extended her personal congratulations to the Riverside CEALH team for their "well-deserved recognition" and their impact on "improved interactions with health care and senior service providers."

Riverside CEALH

Since 2009, the program has trained 75 facilitators and expanded its reach geographically. Over the course of five weeks, caregivers assess themselves for health and well-being, share practical tips on helping their loved one eat, bathe and dress, and get access to resources that can help them accent care or give them a respite. They also find ways to be greater advocates for themselves in interactions with healthcare and senior service providers.

"More than 50 percent of the population of Newport News is seniors – we will have issues without programs like this," said Newport News Councilwoman Sharon Scott, who attended the award ceremony. "We want to make sure we are taking care of the caregivers. This class is so vital for people to know where to turn for ways to cope and resources."

Other speakers at the event praised past leadership for their vision to care for older adults, leading to the expansion of Riverside's Lifelong Health division programs over the past four decades.

"Riverside has had a robust mission for older adults, and it's important to raise awareness of programs like this, and deeply important to support caregivers," said Dr. Kyle Allen, Vice President, Clinical Integration and Medical Director, Geriatric Medicine and Lifelong Health for Riverside Health System.

More than 7,000 older adults are served by Riverside's Lifelong Health and Aging Related Services division each day, including continuing care retirement communities, home care, PACE Centers and assisted living facilities.

"Caregivers are the glue and we have to support and educate them about the pressures and needs of the job," said Mike Martin, Senior Vice President of Riverside's Lifelong Health division. "Without caregivers, we would fail."

Learn more about caring for older adults at Riverside CEALH at

Published: May 21, 2013