Aging at Home
David Vincent | Photographer
In a world where healthcare costs keep climbing, where ambitious CEOs will do whatever it takes to get to the top, and where so many companies prioritize profits over people, a handful of Topeka businesses are taking on an issue that hits home for countless families not just in the capital city but around the country.
In recent years, the media landscape has featured dialogues around “valuebased” healthcare, and yet little action has followed. Unfortunately, the old adage holds true: The squeaky wheel gets the oil, and as a result, all too regularly what little action is taken to make healthcare more affordable, accessible and effective benefits only those with the loudest voice on the proverbial stage. As one can imagine, the eldest among us are not often counted among that group.
ADVOCATING FOR SENIORS
That’s where local leaders such as Kate Clemmons, Bob Bruns, Gail Shaheed and Tina Downey come in. All four serve in a leadership capacity at their own respective senior home care businesses, and while each organization has its own nuances, it doesn’t take long observing each one to realize that these four businesses are united behind one common mission: to enable the independence of, and advocate for, the seniors in our community.
Home Instead Senior Care—a company with more than 1,000 franchises worldwide—serves the Topeka community, and, under the guidance of its owner, Gail Shaheed, offers a myriad of senior home care services.
“When we started, a lot of our business was just providing companionship to our clients,” Shaheed said of her franchise’s early days. “Now, we really help them to stay in their home by offering services such as meal planning and prep, bathing and toileting, grooming and transportation.”
According to Shaheed, nearly 80 percent of the senior population wants to live at home as long as possible; if it is possible.
“When we start working with a client at their home, we don’t come in with the intention of taking over all of their day-to-day tasks,” Shaheed explained. “We want them to do as much as they can, because that’s what keeps them independent.”
That independence, however, can only be maintained if safety is paramount. Some clients need additional services to ensure they can remain at home in a safe environment.
Kate Clemmons, the executive director of Grace Home Care, says that one of the most critical services her business offers is assistance with medications. While Grace Home Care staff do not provide the medication itself—the pharmacy does that—they do help clients with keeping track of dosages and provide friendly reminders so that no doses are missed. In Clemmons’ experience, the majority of emergency calls in the senior home care field are placed because of either missed medication or accidental overdoses.
Bob Bruns, Eexecutive Director
Bob Bruns, executive director of Visiting Angels, agrees that safety is indeed one of the most important factors of senior home care, and not just for the sake of the client, but for the benefit of his clients’ families as well.
“Safety is big. It prevents the family members from worrying or being concerned about their parents or grandparents,” Bruns said.
At Interim Healthcare of Topeka, a family-owned senior home care organization helmed by general manager Tina Downey, they try to bring safety into all aspects of their home care. Downey says their main goal is to assure peace of mind for both their clients and their loved ones.
Interim Healthcare of Topeka offers the “full continuum” of in-home care, including personal care and support services, hospice services, and home health services such as wound care, infusion care, physical therapy, and occupational therapy—but for all of that to be possible, safety must come first.
Many home health care businesses even offer a personal alert system for their clients to wear that will notify caregivers if the client falls or has called emergency medical services. Some of these notification devices even have GPS capabilities that would allow a caregiver or family member to track the location of a client, if they happened to be separated during an outing, for instance.
While safety remains a top priority in the field of senior home care, it is not the only area of focus that is shared among all four of these Topeka businesses.
When working with seniors, another outcome that receives plenty of resources and attention is the ability to allow caregivers to spend quality time with clients. Many home health care clients don’t have family close by, so having someone that they can spend quality time with is vital to their quality of life.
“What I’m noticing is that companionship is one of those things that people are starting to look for more often with Visiting Angels,” Bruns said.
Shaheed says the same thing. While Home Instead offers a comprehensive list of services, companionship was one of the first things that her organization offered and is the cornerstone upon which much of the business is built.
So what exactly does that companionship look like?
For a client of Grace Home Care, it would be the opportunity to play games, go on walks, watch a favorite television show, and much more, all with a caring companion to make those experiences even more enjoyable. And, if a client simply wanted to reminisce about the good ol’ days, they would also get to do just that, with an engaged caregiver listening and asking questions.
“If a client likes living in the moment, and ‘the moment’ is 50 years ago, we go there with them,” Clemmons said. “We meet them where they are.”
Companionship, Clemmons says, is crucial because it gives the clients not only much-needed social interaction, but also the emotional support that is critical for mental and overall health as well.
Safety, companionship, hygiene, around-the-house help, and general quality-oflife improvements are what businesses—and their staff—such as Grace Home Care, Visiting Angels, Home Instead, and Interim Healthcare of Topeka strive for every day. But while they all work toward common goals, do they face common challenges?
What is the biggest challenge in the senior home care field?
Bruns: “Trying to find the right level of care and compassion when looking for new staff members.”
Clemmons: “Recruiting highquality caregivers.” Shaheed: “Staffing is a big one. We’re very selective in the process of who we hire.”
Downey: “Recruiting new staff to work in the home setting, across the board, is the most challenging aspect.”
When it comes to recruiting and staffing for a senior home care organization, finding a qualified candidate with pertinent certifications is only the beginning. While having certain credentials, such as a CNA license, can definitely give a candidate an edge (and the opportunity to earn more), what each of these business owners are really looking for is something that can’t be quantified on a sheet of paper.
“We look for people who have the heart for it,” Shaheed said. “The right personality and compassion is a big factor.”
In fact, Home Instead’s tagline is “To Us It’s Personal.” Shaheed believes that if someone has experienced a family member going into an assisted living facility or hospice, or can truly empathize with that, it will greatly aid them in serving clients and embracing her organization’s mission.
Over at Grace Home Care, Clemmons said they “look for folks who have the heart of a caregiver.”
Compassion is the operative word in this conversation. When it comes to finding someone to provide in-home care for seniors, yes, the skills, education, and know-how are important, but it is a caring personality and servant’s heart that are the most sought-after qualifications. After all, you can teach someone a skill, but it’s much more difficult—if not impossible—to teach them compassion. And who says compassion isn’t a skill that can yield a monetary return?
“There’s a man whose spouse was a client of ours, and after his spouse passed away, he told his brother, he told his lawyer—he told everyone—that if a time came when he needed in-home care, he wanted to work with us, too,” Shaheed said.
Sure enough, that man is now a client of Home Instead.
As the Baby Boomer and Gen X populations continue to age, and with the massive Millennial population already looking for ways to save for retirement, healthcare fields such as senior home care are sure to grow. With that increase in volume of clients also comes an increase in demanded services, such as 24/7 access to caregivers, and assistance with pet care. These are services that are already being offered by some senior home care companies, but for the industry to keep pace with an ever-growing population, it may need some help.
For one, increasing the access, and in some cases the affordability, to senior home care is something that our legislators may be able to play a part in. Shaheed is a “state captain” in a national association dedicated to making positive strides in this field. Each year all of the state captains meet with congress to discuss opportunities of improvement.
“Last year, we talked to congress about a bill that would allow someone to use even more of their Health Savings Account money toward in-home senior care,” Shaheed said. “These are the things we need. Grassroots efforts.”
Shaheed’s hope is that there will also be an increase in certain regulations for senior home care businesses in an effort to ensure that a quality standard of living is maintained for seniors who use those services.
REAPING THE REWARDS
Of course, the more qualified individuals with a “passion for compassion” that can help serve those who once took care of and provided for them, the more the senior home care field will flourish. And if there is any doubt about working in the field being rewarding, it takes only a couple of minutes speaking with these local leaders to have those worries laid to rest.
“Allowing people to keep living at home is the most rewarding thing," Downey said.
“The day I stop getting tears in my eyes from talking about this is the day I should step down,” Shaheed said.