When Carol Eager was pregnant with twin boys last year, her husband William, principal of St. Luke's School in McLean, tended to their nine children -- and her mother, an Alzheimer's disease patient who lives with them in Reston.
Because there are no public services that provide nonmedical care for those suffering from chronic disease, "Bill had to give Mom her baths, change her bed, dress her," Eager said yesterday. "And at the time, we couldn't even find anyone to hire, because there is such a shortage of that kind of help."
The Eager family -- which includes 11 children and mother, Marge Wallace, 68 -- appeared yesterday at a news conference kicking off "Long Term Care '88," a national campaign initiated by a coalition of 83 national religious, social service and senior citizen organizations hoping to make the growing problem of long-term care a presidential election issue.
Long-term care is defined by the coalition as the wide range of nonmedical services provided over a sustained period for those who need assistance with daily living activities, such as eating, bathing and dressing, regardless of age.
"This is not just a senior citizens' campaign," said Robert Maxwell, vice president of the American Association of Retired Persons, a coalition member. "We are also concerned about a child stricken with cerebral palsy. A teen-ager injured in an auto accident. A worker disabled on the job."
Medicare insurance does not cover custodial care and Medicaid provides such services only for those with low incomes or who have already depleted their resources.
Coalition leaders released the results of a national poll showing that a majority of American voters want a government long-term care program and are willing to pay higher taxes for it.
The poll, which was based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,000 registered voters during the first half of July, also showed that the absence of a long-term care policy is perceived as a national family crisis and that voters view positively those candidates who would address this issue, coalition officials said.
"Long-term care is not just a personal issue -- it is a powerful political issue as well . . . it is, perhaps, the quintessential family issue," said Ronald F. Pollack, executive director of The Villers Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group for low-income elderly and a coalition member.
The $80,000 poll was prepared for AARP and Villers by R.L. Associates of Princeton, N.J.
Coalition leaders said that the poll documented the universal impact of the problem, with more than 60 percent of those responding saying they have had some experience in their own families or through close friends with the need for long-term care.
Long-term care also is a major financial concern for families, the poll found; 90 percent agreed that having a family member who needs long-term care would be financially devastating for most working and middle-income families.
The poll also concluded that by a 5-to-2 ratio Americans would be willing to pay $10 to $60 more per month in taxes, depending on their household income, to finance a long-term care program.
Materials produced for use around the country include a video, "Our Parents, Our Children, Ourselves," narrated by Arthur S. Flemming, former secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The video shows how three families, including the Eagers, have been confronted with the long-term care issue.
Bill Eager said his family wanted to be part of the video because long-term care is a "major issue."
Eager said his mother-in-law now requires the same kind of care as a child. Except, he said, "with our children, we see them learn to tie their shoes, grow up. With Marge it is the reverse. She gets worse and worse."