Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Seniors can receive care “right at home”

Six-year-old Twin Cities nonprofit’s specialty: in-home assistance

“In our clients’ homes, caregivers make everything from chili, potpie and shortcake to pizza and manicotti,” says Paul Blom. He’s the owner and CEO of Right at Home, an award-winning Bloomington, Minnesota, organization that provides in-home services for seniors who do not wish to move to an assisted living facility.

“Caregivers have done holiday baking. They’ve learned ethnic specialties like baklava or krumkake by following the seniors’ instructions. Sometimes they’ll go out for a meal together, or a caregiver will escort a senior to a wedding.”
Six years ago Blom was working in information technology, but the tech bubble was faltering. Looking around his neighborhood, he noticed older friends and neighbors having difficulty staying in their homes, often not for medical reasons but because they couldn’t keep up with daily chores and maintenance.

The firm, Right at Home: In-home Care and Assis-tance, had just begun selling franchises in spring 2001. Blom saw an opportunity. “Our franchise was the third in the country, and there are now over 100 nationwide. We’re still the only one in Minnesota.

“We started with a staff of two, Bob White and me, plus two caregivers. Now we have a staff of six, 160 caregivers, and we serve 377 clients. I don’t think of this as a job. It’s what I do. It’s a way of life.”

Medical needs are important, but, Blom says, “We’ve created a psycho-social model of care. Caregivers in our clients’ homes may do vacuuming, dusting, laundry, organizing, straightening, assisting with pet care or running errands. They drive clients to the grocery store, hair appointments, church or temple, exercise or other classes as well as to medical appointments.”

Meal planning can be crucial. “Many clients have been subsisting on TV dinners and other packaged meals they can heat in the microwave. These have too much sodium and too many preservatives. Caregivers plan weekly menus and cook homemade meals in usable portions.”

The local franchise has been recognized with two awards. In 2002, national Right at Home presented its System Improve-ment Award to Blom’s group for originating the recruitment phrase now used nationally: “Volunteering With a Purpose.” The phrase sprang from a comment by an early caregiver, “It feels like I’m volunteering.”

AARP recently ranked the Bloomington firm exemplary in providing employment for the mature worker. “Some of our caregivers are in their 80s,” Blom says.

“We look for people we can trust,” he continues. “We ask ourselves, ‘Would I send this person to take care of my Grandmother?’”

Or, to put it another way, Blom says, “‘Would I give this person the key to my house?’” He says, “We still have the first caregiver we ever hired.” Caregivers can spend anywhere from three to 24 hours a day with the client.

Assessing a new client’s situation is an essential step. “We do a personal history and evaluate their needs: medical, psychological, emotional, spiritual and financial,” Blom says. “We ask about hobbies and interests, and we assess risks. Clients who have been struggling to clean their bathrooms or stretching to change their bed linens risk losing their balance, falling and injuring themselves.

“It’s a process of discovery together. Some people will say that their health is ‘pretty good,’ yet they might have diabetes and high blood pressure. Others who say their health is ‘not good’ may only have some arthritis, which is normal at their age. We ask clients, ‘At this point in your life, where are you finding purpose?’”

Typically, a family member is present for the assessment. “Sometimes when we do the personal history we’ll have an adult child say, ‘I didn’t know that!’ It happened with a client who had been a Morse code operator who helped Charles Lindbergh land his plane,” Blom says. “This prompted the caregiver to bring a tape recorder and do an oral history for the family.”

When assessment is complete, Blom’s technical background comes into play. He has developed a computer program that creates an individualized care plan and seeks a match among caregiver applicants. The final link is interviewing the caretaker at the client’s home, making certain they are personally compatible.

Right at Home goes the extra mile in retaining its caregivers. “We want to provide continuity of care, and we try to do things that will make caregivers want to stay with us,” Blom says. “We send birthday cards to both caregivers and clients. We send Christmas cards to caregivers, clients, social workers, and others who give us referrals. Clients receive baskets of homemade cookies and a Christmas stocking filled with treats.

“When gas prices spiked, we surprised caregivers with a gas card. We provide a thermal coffee mug and thermal lunch bag as a thank-you gift to caregivers. After two years, they get a week of paid vacation. If a client is hospitalized, we pay the caregiver for a two-hour hospital visit and add a stipend they can spend on a gift.

“We sponsor a quarterly dinner and a January celebration at Chanhassen Din-ner Theater. From a theological viewpoint, there’s something tremendously spiritual about sharing a meal,” says Blom, who has Lutheran seminary training. “Caregivers are invited to participate in the annual walk for a cure for Parkinson’s disease, and we match pledge money they raise.” Blom is president of the Parkinson As-sociation of Minnesota.

“We do as much as we can to help caregivers realize that they are a part of something larger,” Blom says. “We have a higher retention rate than similar agencies. And I can’t remember the last time that a caregiver did not show up at a client’s home.”

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For further information about Right at Home, phone 952/854-6122 or visit the Web site, www.rah-tc.net.