What's involved in home caregiving?

To get their fledgling Independence-4-Seniors Home Care firm off the ground in 2002, Joan and Mike O'Brien looked well beyond home base Hinsdale for clients, including Island Lake.

"I'm from the south suburbs and I had never heard of Island Lake," Joan said of the far north suburban village.

Suffice it to say, demand in the local area has since expanded to make those kinds of commutes unnecessary. November is National Caregiver Month, recognizing a field that has experienced exponential growth in the last couple of decades. Mike said about 200 non-medical home care companies like theirs were operating in Illinois 18 years ago. Today that number has quadrupled.

Independence-4-Seniors employed five caregivers at the beginning. These days it may be as many as 200. And the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't slowed them down.

"A lot of people who had been planning to go to a retirement community were then knocking on our door," Mike said, adding that many rehab patients have been opting to do at-home therapy instead of going to a facility.

"We've always been busy," Joan remarked. "Now we're crazy busy."

The restrictions on gatherings have been tough on the elderly they work with, Joan said, shutting down in-person bridge games and other social outlets they so cherish.

"One of the things that we are so very well aware of is the isolation of seniors and how this pandemic impacts their socialization," she said.

So the firm's caregivers have worked keep them connected virtually through video calls with family and friends.

"We've also just tried to provide a lot of companionship and activities for our clients," Joan said.

Mike said caregivers have all the CDC-prescribed protective gear, some of which they already had on hand back in March.

"We bought all our caregivers thermometers and log books for them to record their temperature checks," commented the former respiratory therapist. Joan is a registered nurse.

"We understand health care and disease and infection control," Mike said. "We've seen exactly what can happen to you."

COVID-19, of course, was unlike anything they'd encountered, and they knew their clients' lives could depend on their strict adherence to safety protocols.

"For them to be infected is so very detrimental to their health because they've got so many other co-morbidities," Joan said.

In the Hinsdale office, the training room has been converted to the PPE storage closet and administrators were furnished with equipment necessary to work from home. Operating remotely has been an adjustment.

"We are the type of industry that runs better when all of us are in the same office," Joan said. Caregivers undergo extensive background checks and take ongoing training. Mike said the firm recently became licensed to perform skilled nursing.

"We're trying to answer the clients' needs that want to remain in their homes," he said.

"It's an incredible amount of work," Joan said. "It's also very rewarding. The thank-yous we get from families, the thank-yous we get from clients, knowing that we made a difference for them really is the most gratifying."

- by Ken Knutson

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean