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Health Care

Companies Expand In-home Services Market

By Jenny Callison, posted Aug 14, 2015
Aurelia Corbett, with Synergy HomeCare, works with Mildred Edgerton. The company is part of a growing market providing services to seniors to help them stay in their homes longer. (Photo by Chris Brehmer)
For the majority of U.S. adults approaching retirement or already retired, there is apparently no place like home.

Research by the AARP Public Policy Institute found that nearly 90 percent of senior citizens want to stay in their homes as they age.

Tom Pechar agrees. The owner of the Synergy HomeCare franchise in Wilmington since 2010, Pechar has seen that most people want to stay at home as long as possible.

“If they need assistance, that’s where we come in,” he said, noting that Medicare strongly encourages aging adults to get in-home care, which saves Medicare money and allows people to do what they really want to do.

Those wishing to age in place in their own homes have more resources than ever, thanks to increased attention focused on older adults and businesses that see opportunities in catering to this market. Those resources include home features focused on accessibility, in-home care services, mobility devices and tech gadgets that summon help and provide heightened security.

Fundamental to aging in place is the place itself: a home that is safe and physically manageable by its occupants. That can involve designing and building a home from the ground up or adapting an existing home.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reports that 75 percent of remodelers surveyed were seeing an increase in inquiries about aging-in-place modifications, and the organization predicts that the aging-in-place remodeling market will soon total $20 billion to $25 billion, about one-tenth of the entire home improvement market.

“Boomers, who are 77 million strong and make up 28 percent of the U.S. population, are quickly catching onto this trend,” NAHB stated on its website. “The economics of aging-in-place modifications are a no-brainer. Moving to a typical assisted-living facility can cost up to $60,000 annually. The cost to widen the bathroom door, put in safety bars, and add a roll-in shower would typically cost about $6,000 to $8,000, but doing so is a one-time expense, not a yearly drain on your finances.”

Wilmington-based Charter Building Group, which has constructed about 450 homes in Porters Neck Plantation over the past 20-plus years, sees many of today’s buyers of new homes in the development focusing on accessibility issues even if they have not yet retired. To begin with, they are looking for one-level living, officials said.

“We don’t build very many two-story houses in Porters Neck anymore,” said Holly Overton, Charter’s new home specialist. “People are thinking about these things earlier than before. We design a floor plan so it can be adapted later on.”

Buyers at Porters Neck are also asking for very simple accessibility features. 

“We are widening doorways, making sure bathrooms are spacious enough and installing curbless showers,” Overton said. “We’re blocking for grab bars so they can be added later on if needed.”

When mobility becomes an issue, there’s an expanding range of in-home equipment to help a person get around, and demand for these devices is increasing, according to Brian Havens, spokesman for  Wilmington-based 101 Mobility. The company supplies everything from automatic chair lifts to ramps and automatic door openers and grab bars.

The company, which recently added a push-button medical alert system to its catalog, wants to be a one-stop shop for in-home mobility and accessibility, said Havens, noting that aging in place can be an affordable alternative for some.

“The average price of nursing home care is $80,000 a year. Our stair lift is about $30,000, and that’s a one-time fee,” he said.

As the large baby boomer population hits retirement age, 101 Mobility has seen demand for its products and its franchises increase, Havens said.  Established in 2008, the company began franchising in 2010 and now has more than 110 franchise territories across the U.S.

When living totally independently, even in an accessibly designed home, becomes difficult, seniors can engage help through companies like Synergy, which can provide hands-on personal care by certified nursing assistants (CNA) or simply companion care. Neither is authorized to give any kind of medical assistance including administering medicine.

Hiring help through a licensed agency may be more expensive than directly hiring an individual, but Pechar asserts that working through a licensed agency is a better bet.

“I pay a lot of money for workers’ comp insurance, and if something happens to my CNA, my workers’ comp kicks in,” he said. “If you have a private individual coming in to your home and something happens to them, it’s going to be on your homeowners insurance.”

North Carolina requires home-care businesses to be licensed, which is a good thing for the service recipients, Pechar said.

“In non-license states, anyone can put out a shingle, and there’s no oversight,” he said. “We get reviewed, and our records are audited. It’s harder for the agency but way, way better for the customer.”

Although home-care businesses must leave home health care services to companies such as Wilmington’s Well Care, they can train their employees to deal with the effects of chronic illness and dementia.

Ann LaReau, Alzheimer’s administrator for Home Instead Senior Care’s Wilmington location, takes pride in the training her staff receives to understand how to make the most of an Alzheimer’s disease patient’s abilities and to do cognitive-appropriate activities to keep them stimulated and engaged.

“They need to know they still have some choices,” LaReau said of her agency’s Alzheimer’s clients. “Our clients know they are still the boss; it’s their house.”

Home Instead’s training increases the value of its personal care or companion care services. By learning about a client’s family, interests and background, the Home Instead caregiver can converse with the patient, taking cues from where the patient is mentally and helping to draw out positive memories and calm the patient’s anxieties, LaReau explained.

This kind of special enhancement also helps one home care agency to differentiate from others.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Pechar said. “There are a lot of opportunities in this field, but because there is a great need for these services, a lot of people are getting into it.”
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