“Home is the place to be. There is no better alternative to keeping seniors at home in my eyes.”
This, says former realtor Joanie MacDonald, was the main reason she opened Home Sweet Home Care Inc., — an in-home elder care service which serves parts of Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast — six years ago.
“I first became aware of the need in my own family,” MacDonald says. “My father had a stroke, my mother had a rare disease and my son had a car accident at 17. He was in a coma for several months and became mentally disabled. I was frustrated because I couldn't get the help I needed. So I took them all in and looked after them at home.”
As their full-time caregiver, she also needed to find a means of financial support for the family. Her answer was to start a company that provided the type of in-home services she had been unable to find.
“I haven't looked back,” she says. “Business is booming. I can hardly keep up. The need is huge. As care co-ordinator, I can never have enough good staff.”
Personal experience was also the catalyst that prompted Irene Martin to open Retire-At-Home Services in Ottawa in 1994. During the last two years of her nursing career, Martin worked in a retirement home.
“That's where the seed for Retire-At-Home was planted,” she says. “I heard a lot of seniors saying that they wished they could stay at home, but they couldn't find a single company that could deal with all their needs.”
At that same time, her parents became terminally ill. Their desire to spend their last days at home “really cemented for me that I wanted to do this.”
Her aim in developing the award-winning company was “to cover everything, a total-care approach that looks after social and emotional needs, as well as physical needs.”
Retire-At-Home has a staff of 150 in Ottawa, offering services that range from home maintenance, shopping and providing meals to bathing assistance, companionship and full-time care.
The nationally accredited company has also expanded as a franchise operation, with eight offices across Ontario and one in Vancouver.
“We spent close to five years developing the franchise package,” says the founder's son Jonathan Martin, vice-president of franchise development for the company. “We wanted to ensure that we maintained our reputation for providing a quality service.”
Bruce Mahony, managing director of two Home Instead Senior Care franchises in Toronto, has a similar aim. Like MacDonald and Martin, personal experience showed him the need for in-home services for seniors.
“My pioneer grandmother, who lived to be over 100, came to live with us in Toronto when she was 87,” says Mahony. “I became her companion. People of this age outlive everyone and without socialization, they get depressed.”
The company, which has 900 offices worldwide, is founded on the growing need to provide support for the expanding senior population, he says.
“As the need grows, this is very much a growth area in terms of careers,” points out Mahony. “Surveys consistently show that seniors want to remain at home. As aging occurs, staying at home without help can become more difficult, which is why many older adults need caregiving assistance.
“Our caregivers don't just care for seniors. They also care about seniors, many of whom are suffering from loneliness, depression and anxiety.”
According to Statistics Canada's A Portrait of Seniors in Canada, published in November 2008, seniors are one of the fastest growing groups in Canadian society. The number of seniors in Canada is projected to increase from 4.2 million to 9.8 million between 2005 and 2036. As StatsCan pointed out in its most recent General Social Survey, “the majority of the senior primary care receivers (78 per cent) continued to live in their homes (75 per cent of women care receivers and 83 per cent of men care receivers in 2007); and only one-fifth of them (22 per cent) lived in care facilities.”
The aging of the population fuels the need for caregivers in two ways: More people require care and more of the people able to provide that care are heading for retirement age themselves. The figures indicate that by 2056, one in four Canadians will be over 65 and one in 10 will be over 80.
Seniors already frequently care for other seniors. This is the structure of an organization such as the Edmonton-based Society of Seniors Caring About Seniors, which recruits service providers running their own businesses and connects them with low-income seniors in their own homes.
The preference for independent living is also recognized on the political front. For example, on May 1, Nova Scotia NDP leader Darrell Dexter announced his party's proposal of a seniors' self-managed care allowance, which could be used to help them stay in their own homes.
It all adds up to a broad range of job opportunities. For example, says Cal Martin, director of the Regional Geriatric Program of Eastern Ontario, “we are very short of geriatricians. Appropriate diagnosis and treatment, as much as care and treatment, is quite critical in ensuring that people can remain in their own homes as long as possible and not be moved to other levels of care prematurely.
“Because the number of seniors is going up, we need more people in more specialties,” he adds. “There are also a number of other key functions. You don't need a professional designation to give folks the support they need with daily living.”
He points to the need for personal support workers, attendant care and rehabilitation assistance. Most of all, he says “we need people to educate people in the care of the elderly and to develop more nursing leadership roles to train and mentor others.”
“We are recruiting constantly,” says Mahony. “We hire one in 10 applicants. We are always cherry picking for the cream of the crop.”
“With the shortage of nurses and caregivers across Canada that we hear about all the time, we've had no trouble finding good people,” says Jonathan Martin. “We aim to provide a good working environment. We strongly believe the happier the staff are, the happier the clients will be.”
There are many positions available to people hoping to make a career of caring for the elderly. These include:
• Practical nurses
• Personal care providers
• Personal support workers
• Household care
• Home maintenance workers
• Outdoor workers
• Owners/operators of services for seniors and people with disabilities
• Franchisor/franchisee operators
• Office workers
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