Senior in-home care a burgeoning business

An estimated 35.6 million people, or 12.2 percent of the population, are 65 years of age or older. By 2011, the baby boom generation will begin to turn 65, and, by 2030, one in five people is projected to be age 65 or older. Although the United States contains less than 5 percent of the world’s population, 13 percent of its people are over age 80, ranking the United States second only to China, according to the Web site

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, family caregivers spend an average of 22 hours per week providing care to their elderly relatives.

It is a good time to be in the business of providing respite care to families and support services to the elderly or disabled who wish to remain independent in their own home.

Kathryn Curry has a master’s degree in business, and spent many years in commercial lending in the banking industry. Seven years ago, Curry decided to venture on a new path. “I spent a good deal of time looking at my skills and what mattered to me,” Curry said. “I wanted to take a whole different route.”

Curry, who lived in Des Moines, Iowa, met the owners of a franchise called Home Instead Senior Care when she was visiting a friend in New Mexico. The franchise owners talked to Curry about a couple of territories open in the West – one in Phoenix and one in Colorado Springs. Curry liked the idea of owning a business that filled a need for seniors and helped them remain in their own home. She researched the Home Instead opportunities, and the rest is history. The New Mexico vacation changed her life and brought her to Colorado Springs, where the quality of life, in her opinion, was better than a big city in Arizona.

On June 16, 1997, Curry opened a Home Instead franchise with exclusive rights for Teller and El Paso County. Home Instead Senior Care, with more than 450 franchises in the United States, Canada, Japan and Western Europe, is the world’s largest provider of non-medical in-home care and companionship services for the elderly.

Curry hit the pavement running by meeting and establishing a rapport with anyone and everyone who knew a caregiver needing relief or a homebound person needing assistance. Her marketing efforts, from the beginning, have been concentrated on networking and word-of-mouth referrals. Curry does not advertise in the newspaper because she said people hire a service agency built on its trustworthy reputation. “Who would go through a phone book or a newspaper to hire someone to take care of aging loved ones?” Curry asked. “You wouldn’t trust a family member to any Tom, Dick and Harry. I am a Cadillac service, and I will take really good care of the family members.”

Curry said she “poured her heart and soul into the business.” As with any startup, the hours were long and the financial reward insufficient for paying adequate salaries for competent help. However, Curry’s son, Adam, had graduated from college that same June, and Curry said she “begged” him to move to the Springs and help her with the business. “I told him that I couldn’t pay much, but I could teach him a lot about owning a business,” Curry said. Adam Curry accepted the mission, and stayed for eight months helping his mother get her business off the ground.

Today, Home Instead is off the ground and business is soaring.

More than 50 percent of Curry’s clients have no family members living in the area, and Curry said many times the children don’t discover mom and dad’s plight until they are visiting because the parents cover up their shortcomings for fear of losing their independence. “If you’ve been in your home for 40 years, and someone is trying to tell you that you are too fragile to remain there, you are going to put your dukes up,” Curry said.

Her clients are predominantly above age 85, and 95 percent of them are female. Home Instead provides non-medical services such as meal planning, light housekeeping, errands, bathing, dressing, grocery shopping, medicine reminders and transportation to doctor or other specific appointments. Home Instead also provides 24-hour service to clients, including round-the-clock care for seniors who have Alzheimer’s disease. The services are inclusive, Curry said, although she emphasized that she does not provide skilled care, which involves invasive procedures, hands-on medical treatments or the distilling of medications. “What we assess when we sit down with families are issues related to safety and the person’s energy level, stamina and dementia concerns,” Curry said.

Home care agencies that provide skilled medical care have been in place for a long time, Curry said. She said that before Medicare “tightened its belt,” the system provided a “cash cow” for skilled agencies, but the agencies were required to make a certain number of home-based visits per day in order to stay above board financially. The nurses had no time for making a bed or running an errand.

Paul Hogan, the founder of Home Instead, changed it all when he, because of his own experience caring for a grandmother, opened the first Home Instead office in Omaha, Neb., in 1994. Home Instead was the first agency on the map to provide non-medical and companionship care to help seniors remain independent and in their own homes.

And there is a price to pay for that independence. Although the cost for non-medical care is less than skilled care, it adds up, especially if someone needs 24-hour services. Home Instead costs per hour range from $16.90 to $19.90, depending on the type and extent of care. Twelve-hour overnight care is set at a flat rate of $168. Curry said her caregivers average three to four days with each client, usually at the critical hours of the morning and evening.

Curry’s clients are all private-pay. Seniors today did not buy long-term insurance policies; instead, most of them, if they opted for it, purchased nursing home policies, Curry said.

Long-term care insurance policies are essential for people who want to ensure their independence throughout their golden years.

Mark Weigel is a representative for Modern Woodmen of America, and he sells long-term care insurance policies. Weigel said his clients design their individual types of plans, and most spend an average of $100 per month on their policies. He recommends that people start looking into long-term care policies at age 55. “If you wait until you are in your 70s or 80s, it gets expensive,” Weigel said. He offers a variety of plans that include coverage for nursing homes, assisted living centers, adult day care, Alzheimer’s facilities and home care. “If someone has to go into a nursing home, the person is looking at $100 bucks a day,” Weigel said. “You can go through a lot of money in a few years.” And Weigel said the government is wise to people who sign their assets over to their children. If a person does end up in the nursing home on Medicare, Weigel said the government could go as far back as five years to collect on those assets, even if they have been signed over to the children.

“If you don’t have long-term care insurance, somebody is going to pay for it (services),” Weigel said. “If you have nothing, the government will pay for it.”

Weigel said one in every two and one-half persons over age 65 will need some type of long-term care.