The U.S. is experiencing an explosion in its senior population. Thanks to advanced medicine, healthier lifestyles, better nutrition and a host of other factors, men and women in the U.S. are living longer than ever. The average life expectancy for U.S. citizens is 78.61 years. The 2010 U.S. census found that every state in the union experienced increases in the number of residents who were 85 and older, and the U.S. population 65 and older is now the largest it has ever been, in terms of size and percent of the general population. This group of Americans grew at a faster rate than the total U.S. population between 2000 and 2010. Couple that information with the fact that about 7,000 of the 76 million baby boomers are becoming seniors each day, and it’s clear the demand for senior services will also surge.
While some seniors live with their children or other family in their golden years, others choose to move into a senior community where they can socialize with others their age and can count on the assistance of on-site caregivers should they need it. According to Pam Ferris, president and CEO of Seacrest Village Retirement Communities, there’s another rapidly growing trend: seniors who want to age in place. In other words, they’re happy living out the rest of their years in the comfort of their own homes.
Still, as many of these aging-in-place seniors find, they could use some help to maintain their lifestyle, whether it be someone to drive them around town for errands or to the doctor, remind them to take their medication, or help them with bathing, grooming, meal planning or preparation, bill paying, letter writing, light housekeeping or simply acting as a companion.
It’s for this group of seniors that boardmembers, donors, supporters and staff at Seacrest Village, including Ferris, worked to develop a solution: Seacrest at Home, a separate 501(c)3 entity whose mission is to bring professional home care associates, or caregivers, into seniors’ homes (or retirement communities, if that’s where they live) to assist them in these ways.
“About 10 years ago, I thought this was the direction we should probably work toward,” Ferris says. “We were getting so many calls for referrals to home care companies. After that happened year after year, I thought, ‘Why aren’t we doing what we do so well and taking it out into the community?’ We know certainly that people are living longer, and that 95 percent of all seniors want to remain in their own homes.”
She adds that many senior communties are at capacity and can’t accommodate all the seniors who want to live there.
“We have a wonderful, beautiful home at Seacrest in Encinitas and at Seacrest in Rancho Bernardo, and it’s as close to home as you can get,” she says. “A lot of people really thrive in a senior community like ours, but not everybody does, and particularly couples. They want to stay in their own home, and if they’re set up for it, who wouldn’t want to?”
When Solana Beach resident Irwin Newberg, age 94, developed a degenerative muscle disease that has since robbed him of the use of his lower body and relegated him to an electric wheelchair, he decided he wanted to age in place. His house, he says, sits between a canyon and the San Elijo Lagoon, giving him access to a “150-acre backyard I never have to take care of” with deer, other wildlife and stunning views. His home includes a workshop in his garage, where he likes to spend his time using his tools to fix and build things.
“It’s a nice home,” he says, “and I want to live here and die here.”
But to do that, he had to hire home caregivers to help him get out of bed and into the shower, dressed and into his wheelchair each morning, and then back into bed at night. He’s still able to do almost everything else on his own, he says, including driving his own car with hand controls, grocery and household shopping and bathing. He has use of his upper body — his arms, his hands, and, the World War II Army vet says, his brain. In early April, he hired Seacrest at Home to assist him with his nighttime routine.
“[Seacrest at Home is] cooperative and nice and polite and courteous, and every good adjective you can think of,” he says.
Newberg is just one example of the many clients who’ve already taken advantage of Seacrest at Home’s services since it opened for business in January. According to Ferris, they’re providing a service no other home care company in the San Diego area yet has.
“While there are a lot of home care companies out there, there is not anything in our Jewish community to serve our people,” she says. “While this new affiliate is available to serve people of all faiths, we certainly want to be there for our Jewish community, and there is nothing that does this in San Diego, so that was our focus.”
According to Kelly Denton, RN and director of home care services at Seacrest at Home, the company educates its caregivers about Judaism for the Jewish clients in whose homes they will most certainly be working.
“One of my favorite parts of orientation [for our homecare associates] is Jewish culture,” Denton says. “We spend about three to four hours on Jewish culture. We talk about the Holocaust. We talk about the laws of kashrut, what it means to keep a kosher kitchen. We talk about common Jewish symbols. We talk about events that might be occurring. The mourning process. We talk about bar mitzvah, bat mitzvah. [We want] to teach them a little bit about Jewish culture so that when they go into the home, they can have dialogue with their clients and start to build relationships. It’s not uncommon on a Friday night if we go to somebody’s home to provide care and we know they keep Shabbat, that we bring challah with us.”
Seacrest at Home is unique in several other ways. It takes many of its employee-related policies from Seacrest Village, ensuring a “culture of care” among its staff that leads to high-quality care for clients, Ferris says. They’ve designed a comprehensive three-day training program, called the Seacrest at Home Academy, for new employees, where, in addition to Jewish culture, they discuss normal aging, the physiological side of aging, the psycho-social aspects of aging, infection control, dementia, Alzheimer’s and other pertinent topics. Additionally, they pay their employees better than their competition, Ferris says, and they’re very careful about who they hire in the first place.
“They go through drug testing, FBI clearance, background checks with the Department of Justice for the state of California,” Ferris says. “A pre-employment physical includes a tuberculosis test as well as a drug screen … We take that very seriously, and we also provide worker’s compensation, whereas a lot of our competition does not. We hope [our employees] stay with us.”
Another thing Seacrest at Home does, Denton says, is ask its new employees to complete a survey about their education, skill set, experience level and their likes and dislikes.
“When we do our initial consultation with the client, we do the same sort of assessment,” says Denton, who adds that the company’s relationship with the client’s family is also of utmost importance, because the family needs assurance that their loved one is cared for.
“They need to be safe,” Denton says. “We meet with the client and/or the family and discuss the services that are being requested, and we also do a home safety assessment. We want to make sure the client is safe in the situation he or she currently is in, and we want to make sure the situation currently is safe for our caregivers. Besides the home assessment, we talk to the client to find out what their likes and dislikes are. It really helps us make the best match between our caregiver and our client.”
Seacrest at Home can provide caregivers for as few as two hours to as many as 24 (divided into two 12-hour shifts or three eight-hour shifts), and they can provide care on a short-term or long-term basis. They can even work in tangent with other skilled caregivers, like CNAs or LVNs, who might be present if a client has just returned from the hospital, or even if a client is receiving hospice care. Seacrest at Home’s caregivers do not provide home healthcare themselves, so these arrangements are not unusual.
“Not everybody needs a lot of care,” says Robin Israel, vice president of philanthropy for Seacrest Village Retirement Communities. “There are people who just need someone to come in for two hours a day and take them for their groceries or do their laundry for them. It’s not [necessarily a choice between] moving into a retirement community or staying in your own home with a lot of help. There are people who just need minimal assistance, and they can get that through home care.”
Ferris says they even have clients who have already made the move to a retirement community, but they’d still like the extra assistance a home caregiver can provide. Seacrest Village has residents at all levels of care who take advantage of Seacrest at Home’s services, she says.
“People can use an additional caregiver at every level of care, and we actually are finding that people in retirement communities are wanting some extra companionship above and beyond what the staff is already doing,” Ferris says. “It’s sort of the icing on the cake, if you will. It’s not to take the place of the work that our staff at Seacrest Village is doing, but it’s to provide some extra comfort or companionship to that particular client.”
Seacrest Village independent living residents, for example, might like a home care associate from Seacrest at Home to assist with medication reminders or meal preparation. A resident at the assisted living level might like a caregiver to provide companionship or personal transportation to doctor appointments or to visit family. Seacrest at Home’s services can largely be customized to suit any particular client’s needs.
“We’re going to be able to keep people in their own homes longer if they’re safe and if it’s good for them to be in their own homes,” Israel says. “[Similarly], somebody who lives in independent living in a retirement community might be able to stay in that independent living community and not move to another level of care by contracting with a home care company.”
For clients who might not have space in their budget to pay for home care, Ferris says, Seacrest at Home has systems in place to accommodate them.
“Our philosophy here is that we want to be able to serve people regardless of their ability to pay,” she says. “We have, just like at Seacrest Village, a charitable care component. We want to make sure the people who call us are able to pay on a sliding scale and that we’re not turning people away.”
And there’s nothing that comes closer to the definition of “care” than that.
For more information on Seacrest at Home, either to request a free consultation or to inquire about employment as a home care associate, call (760) 632-3715 or visit www.seacrestathome.org.