Personal care caters to families of the ’90s

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The dynamics of extended families have changed. Children who have moved away from their hometowns or those with dual-income households don’t have time to care for aging parents.

At the same time, elderly parents might not want to move in with their children and lose their independence. Or perhaps they fear leaving the community where they were born and raised.

So what is the solution? A Michigan private duty agency just might have the answer for those middle-income, dual-wage earning couples who don’t have the time to visit and assist their elderly parents as frequently as is necessary.

For package fees that start at $228 a month, they can hire Sparrow Home Care Network in Okemos, MI, to help their parents with bathing, laundry, meals, medication, and other daily living activities.

Not only has the program offered families peace of mind, but it has resulted in the elderly clients being able to live independently longer than they would otherwise, says Ethel Baldwin, RN, MPA, CNAA, director of Sparrow Home Care Network. The agency is part of the Sparrow Health System and serves central Michigan near Lansing with more than 100,000 hours of services per year.

The agency started its personal care services at one retirement center in 1991. After tracking clients and non-clients who lived at the center, the agency determined that the residents who received Sparrow’s services were admitted into a nursing home two years later on average than did the center’s residents who were not Sparrow clients, Baldwin says.

Retirement centers have latched onto the idea, Baldwin adds. The residents who receive help through the service stay in their apartments longer, which keeps the center’s occupancy rate higher.

Sparrow’s program has expanded to serving clients, with an average age of 82, at four retirement centers. Each center is given its own list of packages, which are described in a brochure that lists the retirement center’s name on the front.

Demand for program growing rapidly

Demand for the service has increased faster than Sparrow can meet it, Baldwin says. "The biggest problem we have is we can’t get enough caregivers because the unemployment rate is so low," she explains.

This year, the agency began targeting this problem to see if it can increase its employment of caregivers and nursing assistants, Baldwin adds.

Sparrow has marketed the program to children of the elderly residents, under the assumption that they would pay for the service. The marketing efforts include an eight-page booklet that lists the various packages and a presentation with overhead transparencies.

"We did a market survey to find out how much people would pay for our services, and we targeted people who are over 50 years old and earning more than $50,000 a year," Baldwin says.

They found that target customers would be willing to pay up to $20 an hour for such assistance. (See sample list of Sparrow packages, p. 22.)

Based on that, Sparrow developed packages that focus more on regular services than a set number of hours per week. Typically, a family will start with the least expensive package, but "as the needs rise, they will increase the services and move up to a different package," Baldwin says.

The basic package, costing $228.48 per month for residents at one retirement facility, provides any one of the following services:

• Staff remind and assist with medications (includes weekly medication assessment).

• Staff escort resident to meals or deliver meal tray to apartment.

• Staff provide bathing assistance three times per week.

• Resident receives personal laundry service once per week.

• Resident receives intermittent aide visits at least every three hours.

Sparrow also offers a free assessment by a registered nurse, who will help the family decide which package will work best.

Families who use the service also often hire a Sparrow nurse to case manage and provide the oversight that the adult children are unable to provide because they live out of town, she adds.

"In a lot of ways it’s easier to leave these people where their roots are than it is to uproot them and take them where their daughter or son is," Baldwin says.

Most of the clients have chronic diseases. Congestive heart failure is one of the most common diseases, Baldwin states.

Since Sparrow also offers skilled nursing services with Medicare reimbursement and has durable medical equipment services, the agency can coordinate a variety of services for a client. "We can cover all their needs and really have them in that continuum of care," Baldwin says.

The personal care packages are mostly custodial care, so these are mostly private pay arrangements.