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Companion Care: A Solution for a New Age

Published in Diversity News – December 2004

By: Leigh Miller

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the average adult life expectancy in the United States reached 76.9 years in 2001. This number has risen considerably since the early 1900s when the average adult life span was only 49 years. Americans can rely in part on such factors as industrialization, advances in medicine and better nutrition as reasons for the increase in seniors living today. Merri Klein and her business Companion Care Inc., is a wonderful example of the growing trend to accommodate the aging population and their families.

Merri recently started her business Companion Care after a career in mechanical engineering. She felt that she wanted to pursue something more meaningful and people orientated. Her idea to embark on a business specializing in the care for the disabled and elderly was encouraged by her mother, Ruth, who had owned and operated the same type of business for over 20 years in Indiana. Merri realized early on what a valuable resource her mother could be. Armed with years of experience and a desire to build a thriving business, Merri set out to create a niche in home care for the elderly and disabled.

Merri agrees that one of the biggest parts of her job is to educate the public as to what is available to seniors in terms of care. Her business focuses on the non-medical related care that is needed in certain situations. Many of her clients turn to her to explain the difference between care involving the medical profession and home care professionals. This process can seem daunting to families assessing the situation with their loved one.

The State of Washington provides licensing and guidelines for home care agencies. Furthermore, a representative of the state will go over policies established by the home care agencies to make sure they are compliant. Merri certainly feels that this was a good start for her and her clients. When asked what types of service Companion Care can offer, Merri replied, “We can do everything from providing companionship, home making skills, shopping, preparing meals, doing laundry, changing linens to offering personal care. The big distinction between us and nursing [homes] would be that our clients have to be ambulatory. (They have to be able to support their own weight.) And the big difference is in terms of medication…..We can remind people to take their medication.”

Many times the senior or disabled person does not need constant medical care-only help. For example, families may notice that their senior is forgetting their medication or has difficulty with mobility. Merri has prided herself on increasing the independence of seniors by allowing them to stay in their own homes longer while providing loved one with the assurance that their family member is safe.

Also, a large component of home care is the companionship offered. Sometimes it is an estimated 90 percent of the job. In many cases there is a bonding between the senior/disabled person and their caregiver. Because home care usually entails longer visits over an extended period of time, whether it be twice a week or everyday, a solid relationship usually forms. Many seniors have been without this companionship for a long time and it is appreciated. Merri recalls the wonderful stories her clients tell and how she truly enjoys their presence.

When asked how Merri has managed the families that hire her and the clients that need help she offered some practical advice. Most importantly, she advocates the education of all parties. And this can be the reassurance to the senior that the home giver is truly there to improve their quality of life. Merri tells clients that the …..”companion is there to be with you and to help you through the day, but not to direct your life according to a plan or schedule made by someone else.”

Companion Care really strives to make everyone understand the choices available. Merri tells people, “There are a lot of services for older people. You are not alone. Family members are not alone. And there are reasonable alternatives that can be worked out with someone like us that will help their life a lot – and its not going to cost a fortune. I don’t think people realize that there are that many options. They just see the huge costs of institutionalization. Or they are faced with putting a family member in a home and they don’t want to do that.”

Home care agencies such as Companion Care truly demonstrate the trend towards services geared to an aging population.