Home health care demand is rising

May 19, 2013
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Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
Lois Jean Johnson, gets ready to make dinner for David Johnson Sr., 83, her father-in-law, in his home in North Franklin Township Thursday. Lois is David’s daily caregiver which allows him to continue living in his home. Order a Print
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Lucy Novelly

David Johnson Sr. lost a foot but not his sense of humor,

“Just call me ‘Mr. Three Toes,’” said Johnson, 85, who lives alone in his North Franklin Township home.

Diabetes led to the removal of one foot and two toes on the other. “When no one is around, I’m pretty much in a wheelchair,” he said.

Yet he feels fortunate because most of the time, someone is around. Frequently, it’s his primary caregiver, Lois Jean Johnson, his daughter-in-law and a former nurse at Washington Hospital. Sometimes, it’s a caregiver from Family Home Health Services Inc.

“I lost a toe on my second leg,” Johnson said, “then a second toe got infected. My daughter-in-law said she didn’t like the looks of it, that it should be removed.”

It was – in time to possibly save the remainder of his foot.

“If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have one leg left.”

He is grateful to his daughter-in-law for that, and for wrapping his foot, helping to bathe and dress him and assisting with other tasks on a regular basis. Just as he appreciates the other aides.

Because of them, he is able to remain in his house, where he is most comfortable.

Johnson is among a rising number of people in their 70s, 80s, 90s who require a certain level of care, yet prefer to continue living in their homes. Services provided by visiting caregivers – relatives, friends or agency employees – enable many seniors to stay there or return home following treatment at a hospital or nursing facility.

More seniors now have a true choice on where they reside.

Helping to make the transition

Tim Landrin is director of long-term care for Southwestern Pennsylvania Area Agency on Aging, a pri vate nonprofit based on Beau Street in Washington. It serves seniors in Washington, Greene and Fayette counties.

On its website, swpa-aaa.org, the agency describes its mission as promoting “the well-being of older adults through a planned, coordinated and collaborative program of health and social services.”

Landrin did not have specific numbers but estimated that Southwestern provides services to about 16,000 people in the three counties, including in-home care for “at least 2,000.”

Among the agency’s initiatives, Landrin said, is nursing home transition – helping seniors return home following a nursing facility stay.

“Nursing homes provide a great service, and we have a great relationship with them,” Landrin said. “A lot of times, people may go from a hospital to a nursing facility and be in there for a short term or midterm. They want to get back into the community, but there may be some barriers that prevent that.

“That’s where we come in. We work with the nursing home, the person, the doctors and sometimes the family. We try to break down barriers to get them back into the community.”

Landrin estimated that 70 to 80 individuals in the three counties make this transition each year. A number require caregivers, but residents aren’t the only ones who need them.

Caregiver need rising

Lucy Novelly is owner and chief executive officer of Home Instead Senior Care offices in Washington and Bethel Park. Her company, based in Omaha, Neb., is the largest senior care franchisee in the world with more than 850 locally owned offices.

In an economy still experiencing fits and starts, Home Instead plans to hire 45,000 caregivers nationwide this year. Novelly, who estimates she has 275 caregivers serving 250 people in the South Hills and Washington County, will be part of that equation.

“We’re thinking about 20 to 25 caregivers per month,” she said, “and if we can get more, it would be great.”

These are not 20 to 25 full-time jobs each month, but positions that require a range of duties and hours. “We’re a 24/7 service provider,” Novelly said, specifying that she may need employees for one, a few or many shifts a week; for morning, afternoon, evening and/or overnight hours; and for one or many tasks.

She also is particular, and has to be, about who she hires.

“We are very selective,” said Novelly, who opened the first Home Instead office in the Pittsburgh area in 1999. There are now nine.

“We want people who are caring, dependable, patient, have good judgment. They have to be individuals who will say, ‘I want to work with older adults.’

“They have to have innate abilities that would make them capable caregivers. Many caregivers consider doing this more of a calling than a job.”

Novelly said Home Instead can teach and train job candidates to perform certain duties, such as how to give a bath, but they must have the personal makeup the company wants.

“You can’t train or teach people to be reliable,” Novelly said.

Twila Green apparently has those intangibles. “I filled out the application, went to training and got hired,” she said.

A longtime banking executive, Green retired last year, moved out of town for a while then returned to her Mt. Lebanon home. She wanted to work and met Novelly at a networking event. They started working together in September.

“I had some experience with each of my parents separately,” Green said. “But you don’t need to have an ounce of experience. I think this is for anyone who cares about people and wants to work with people.”

She has worked with a number of clients in the past eight months and remembers especially a couple who, while under her care, required a transition to assisted living. They moved to Asbury Heights in Mt. Lebanon.

“Their family asked that I go there for two weeks to help them get adjusted,” Green said. “Their family knew they were attached to me, and I went. You create this bond with people.”

Green wasn’t sure initially whether this job would be a comfortable fit, especially long term. She’s comfortable now.

“I thought this would be a good fill-in, but it’s more than a fill-in. What is so amazing is that I profit from this as much as the people I care for. It has changed my life.”

Prefers his home

Lois Jean Johnson hasn’t had an easy time. Her husband, David Jr., died at age 43, leaving her with five young children. Her father-in-law, David Sr., and his late wife Vi helped as much as they could.

A number of years ago, she was diagnosed with a liquid brain tumor that still exists. Dealing with it is a challenge. “It’s severe sometimes,” David Sr. said.

But she perseveres, and her assistance helps make her father-in-law’s life more pleasant – despite diabetes, diminishing vision and being basically homebound.

He revels in conversation, talking about how he was “born in a cow barn in Washington” and grew up “in a house with no electricity.” Johnson is a Korean War veteran who was a longtime employee of Bell Telephone.

“It was seven years before I made $7,000 in a year.”

He is a homeowner and a rental property owner in Washington.

Even though he spends much of his time in his house, Johnson prefers to be there.

“My daughter-in-law does a lot and this caregiver (with Family Home Health Services) has been pretty good with us,” he said. “I lost my foot about four years ago, and I spent quite a bit of time in the hospital and a nursing home.

“You don’t want to go to a nursing home unless you have to go. If my daughter-in-law weren’t helping me, I would have to go to a nursing home.”

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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