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March 2009
A Better Way
By Janet Kropinak
  Everyone shares similar concerns about health care for their parents, grandparents and loved ones as they reach retirement age and beyond.

      Perhaps your mother gets confused and can’t keep her doctor appointments and medications straight. Or your dad seems depressed and lonely and doesn’t want to get out of bed. Maybe your grandfather needs regular attention for his Alzheimer’s while you’re at work.

      Every day, all across America, families are struggling to cope. Many are raising children, working demanding jobs and trying to care for a senior family member. That’s because America is aging in record numbers.

      By the year 2020, the number of seniors will equal the number of 20 to 35 year olds. Advances in medicine and healthier lifestyles will help seniors work longer and continue to lead more productive lives. But the numbers also tell another story. More and more children need to help care for their parents. These family caregivers eventually run out of hours in the day, the stress becomes too great, and the balance is broken.

      Enter Home Instead Senior Care of Mecklenburg County, a company that delivers care and companionship services right to your loved one’s home. Acting as a helping hand to those struggling to get it all done, Home Instead offers trusted care and support that fits the individual needs of your family.


A better way

      Les and Roberta Farnum, franchise owners of Home Instead of Mecklenburg County, got into the business of caregiving because of a need in their own family. They had been looking into available options for Les’ mother and grandmother and were disappointed by the lack of choices offered.

      “The experience really opened our eyes to the need for a service like this,” remembers Roberta. “We realized that there were probably a lot of people out there living with the same frustrations, so we went in search of a better way.”

      In 1999, the Farnums, who at the time were living in Tennessee, were introduced to Home Instead Senior Care, a network of independently owned and operated senior care franchises that stretches across North American and around the world.

     The goal of Home Instead is to assist with the day-to-day tasks that sometimes make it hard for seniors to remain living independently in their homes. Offering help with everything from personal care to meal preparation, light housekeeping to companionship, Home Instead tailors their services to meet each client’s scheduling needs and preferences.

     The Farnums were so impressed with the Home Instead services that they contemplated opening a franchise themselves. They conducted extensive research and talked with multiple franchise owners, and decided to proceed, setting out in search of a desirable location for their new business venture.

      “We looked at quite a few cities, and after studying the demographics, it appeared that Charlotte had the most growth potential,” Les recalls. So, in 2000, Les and Roberta opened the doors to Mecklenburg County’s first non-medical home care organization.

Recognizing each others’ strengths, Roberta and Les divided business responsibilities.    Les, who had previously managed a manufacturing facility, handles the day-to-day operations, as well as the financial aspect of the business. Roberta, whose background was in consulting, is in charge of the company’s strategic business planning and marketing.

      “What makes us a good team is that we respect each other,” says Les. In addition to their individual strengths, the Farnums share a passion for seniors and helping families cope during life’s transitional periods.

      This passion is also a requirement for any CAREGiver employed by Home Instead. Over the past nine years, Home Instead has grown to over 200 CAREGivers, a testament to the expanding need for their services.

      The Farnums stress the importance of hiring qualified and trustworthy people as a necessity to Home Instead’s continued success.

      “We are asking people to trust us to send someone into their home to care for their loved one; that is a big responsibility and one we don’t take lightly,” attests Roberta.

Understanding that oftentimes the CAREGivers are there when a family member can’t be, each CAREGiver goes through rigorous background checks and extensive training.

      “We offer to our clients CAREGivers who are thoroughly screened, extensively trained, insured and bonded, matched to your preferences, professional, reliable and dependable,” assures Les.

      As a further service to their clients, Home Instead also takes care of scheduling, taxes, benefits, insurance and worker’s compensation for the CAREGivers.

      “Our process is set up in an effort to make life simpler for the seniors and their families,” says Les. “Our mission is to offer care and companionship to the seniors as well as peace of mind to their families.” And it appears Home Instead is succeeding at both.


Stories say it all

      The Farnums credit their process of matching CAREGiver to family with much of Home Instead’s success. They employ several client relations managers who work with each prospective client to find them a CAREGiver (or group of) who best matches their needs. An introduction is made, and the final decision rests with the senior and their family.

      One daughter’s testimony: “Mom gets out of bed for Gladys, Paula and her other CAREGivers whereas she may not want to for others,” comments Sally Fri. “I don’t think twice whether mom’s okay when she’s with her CAREGivers. They are there however long it takes to help mom do as much as she can for herself in an effort to maintain her independence and dignity. With Home Instead CAREGivers at my mom’s side, I finally found peace of mind I didn’t have before.”

      Dolores Olson echoes these sentiments as she speaks of her own experience: “Home Instead knows how to truly care for people.”

      When asked about the quality of her CAREGivers, she is quick to sing their praises. “Since Home Instead tries to give me the same CAREGiver as often as possible, it’s easy to develop a close, personal relationship with them,” she comments. “The CAREGivers I enjoy the most are the ones that observe what I need and when I need it. Home Instead has trained them with the proper knowledge of caring for the elderly. I am able to remain in full control of my life and my home with Home Instead caring for me.”

      Stephanie Hoffman, who enrolled the help of Home Instead in caring for her mother is also quick to discuss benefits of the program and how the experience has helped both of them.

      “When we realized how difficult it was becoming for my mom to function in her day-to-day activities, the stress level for all of us became almost too much to bear. You wrestle with the choice between caring for yourself and your children, spouse and career or caring for the parents you love so much,” she remembers. “It really is the most unfair decision anyone will face in their lifetime.”

      Although initially hesitant about leaving her mother in the care of a stranger, Hoffman credits Home Instead with offering a life-changing experience to her family.

      “The peace of mind Home Instead has given us by pairing our mom with our angel Lucy is beyond words,” she explains. “We have known since the very beginning that the decision we made was the right one. Our only regret is that Lucy and my mom couldn’t have met and been friends earlier on in life.”

      Roberta says it’s these stories that she finds most rewarding. “Knowing you are helping people and truly making their lives better is such a gift,” she comments.


Okay to ask for help

      A recent study from the MetLife Mature Market Institute shows the cost to U.S. businesses due to lost productivity of working caregivers is $17.1 billion to $33.6 billion per year.

      The MetLife Caregiving Cost Study: Productivity Losses to U.S. Businesses, produced in conjunction with the National Alliance for Caregiving, states the average caregiver costs an employer $2,100 per year.

      But even with these staggering numbers in their corner, the Farnums agree, Home Instead isn’t always an easy sell. Perhaps the biggest obstacle they face is helping families overcome the initial anxiety over seeking help. Roberta and Les work hard to help people cope with feelings of guilt over not being able to do everything themselves.

      “There are two important things for family caregivers to remember: the first is that they are not alone,” Roberta says.

      And again, the numbers back her up. It is estimated that 46 million adults are currently providing care to an adult relative or friend. Furthermore, 66 percent of the population—more than 138 million Americans—believe they will need to provide care to someone in the future.

      “The second is that it’s okay to ask for help,” she continues. And for Home Instead clients, help comes in many forms.

      For some, it includes personal care services such as assistance with eating, grooming, dressing or bathing. Others use their CAREGiver for companionship services which may include respite care, arranging appointments, or playing a friendly game of Scrabble to stimulate mental awareness. Still other seniors and their family members appreciate the help of a CAREGiver to prepare meals, do some light housekeeping or run errands.

      Additionally, CAREGivers are trained to deal with Alzheimer’s patients. The Farnums say nearly half of their client base suffers from some sort of dementia.

      Clients can arrange for Home Instead care for as little as a few hours a day, or 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Billing is set up on an hourly basis with costs depending on the required services.

      Home Instead also offers assistance to family members in addressing the need for an outside caregiver with their loved one. “It is an important and often difficult conversation to have,” comments Les. “As the aging process unfolds, we see a role reversal and this transition can be hard on all parties. We encourage people not to wait for a crisis before they ask for help.”

            While the economic downturn hasn’t diminished the need for their services, the Farnums say they are seeing people holding off in soliciting help, which they caution is often costlier in the long run.

            “What people don’t always realize is that a little help can go a long way,” says Roberta. “If these people get just that little bit of help sooner, it can save the family the expense of a lot of help later.”

            Dependability, quality care and accountability have earned the Home Instead network a deep level of trust with clients, their family members and friends, and thousands of health, medical and social professionals.

            To date Home Instead has helped more than 2,000 seniors and their families in Mecklenburg County and the Farnums are excited by the prospect of extending their offerings.

            With an expansion of their Lake Norman office underway and the addition of a south Charlotte location which they expect to be operational in the next few years, they are well-positioned to meet our community’s growing needs.



Janet Kropinak is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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