New benefit provides seniors with ‘grandkids on demand’

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During COVID-19, social isolation has taken its toll. For employee caregivers, a new benefit can help ease the burden of providing companionship for their loved ones during this challenging time.

Papa, a digital elderly companionship and health platform, is now being offered as an employee benefit on a national scale, the company announced on Tuesday. The platform connects seniors with younger companions — called Papa Pals — who can help with everyday tasks like transportation, light household chores, navigating health benefits, doctors’ appointments, prescription refills and grocery delivery. But most importantly, the founder says, they provide friendship.

“We also call them ‘grandkids on demand,’” says Andrew Parker, founder and CEO of Papa. “It’s a perfect symbiotic relationship because the senior and pal are getting so much by participating. We find they get to learn a lot from each other.”

Even before COVID, employees who also act as caregivers have struggled to balance their work and caregiving responsibilities. Every year, caregiving costs U.S. companies around $522 billion in lost productivity, according to a 2019 study by the Aging Summit. Sometimes the pressure is too much for employees; one-third of American workers quit their jobs to take care of an elderly loved one, a study by Harvard Business Review says.

COVID has made this balance even more precarious: a survey conducted by Stanford University found that employee caregivers are suffering from increased anxiety and stress during the pandemic because their support system is under quarantine. These employees may not receive any help from their employers; a study by the Disability Management Employer Coalition shows that 20% of U.S. employers don’t offer caregiving benefits and have no plans to adopt any.

Read more: COVID-19 and the emerging employee caregiving crisis

“It’s a lot of responsibility because caregiving is a full-time job, too,” Parker says. “But providing access to benefits that make it easier for them to do both helps with retention and healthcare costs.”

The platform first started providing companionship as an employee benefit in January 2020. To help seniors, and their caregivers, cope with the challenges of quarantine, Papa included video chatting on their website so the pals could interact while social distancing. About 40% of seniors using Papa during the pandemic said they wanted to video chat with companions, Parker says. The program is free to seniors and their caretakers when offered as an employee benefit.

Papa serves Fortune 500 companies and other benefit providers like Competitive Health and The service is also offered through health insurance companies like Aetna, AvMed, Florida Blue Medicare, Humana, Priority Health and Regence Blue Shield.

“Papa is enabling a growing number of older Americans to age at home, while reducing the cost of care for health plans and creating meaningful jobs for companion care professionals,” said Fatima Husain, principal at Comcast Ventures, in a release.

Once the pandemic is over, Parker hopes Papa Pals and seniors will be able to resume their in-person adventures.

“We once had a 90-year-old user who used to be a surfer in her youth, and she told her Papa Pal stories about it,” he says. “They could tell she missed it, but since she can’t surf at her age, they took her out to the beach so she could wiggle her toes in the sand. What our pals do is empowering; they don’t treat seniors like invalids.”

While most Papa Pals are full-time employees with the platform, Parker says his company is also offering employers the chance to provide volunteer opportunities through the benefit. Employees can volunteer as a Papa Pal for their colleagues’ family members.

“Employers are always looking for benefits that appeal to different demographics,” Parker says. “Even if they aren’t caregivers, this gives them the chance to help out.”

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Employee benefits Coronavirus Voluntary benefits Employee productivity