Healthy Choices

Sacramento agencies work to meet rising need for at-home caregivers for seniors

Cooking fun, healthy foods is a big part of Robert Krebs’ week – and something the 93-year-old could not do without the help of his caregiver, Araceli Torres.

For the past year and a half, Torres has spent 30 hours per week with Krebs, whipping up garlic shrimp and large batches of hummus, taking walks in the park, giving medication reminders and helping with daily errands. She also made sure he was stocked with two days’ worth of meals before taking her holiday break this week.

“Araceli is such a jewel to have,” said Krebs, who lives in Sacramento. “She’s always busy doing something, and she just has so much energy.”

Torres is one of a handful of caregivers that Krebs has hired from Home Instead Senior Care since he fell five years ago and fractured his spine. The Rancho Cordova office of the international agency, which employs caregivers and matches them with clients in need, intends to increase its caregiving staff by more than 50 percent in 2015 to meet the rising demand for at-home attendants for the region’s senior citizens.

The local agency, which serves clients in Placer, Sacramento, El Dorado and Nevada counties, announced earlier this month that it will hire 180 people next year, adding to the 250 caregivers it already employs. The swell of aging baby boomers, combined with the desire of more seniors such as Krebs to age in their homes rather than at a facility, has left a gap in at-home care providers that local employers are trying to fill.

Personal care aides and home health aides hold the No. 2 and No. 3 slots, respectively, on the Department of Labor’s list of fastest-growing occupations. With a 48 percent employment increase expected for both careers by 2022, the fields fall behind only instructional-organizational psychologists in expected growth.

“The demand for home care services is at a pretty aggressive growth rate,” said Buck Shaw, owner of three local Home Instead franchises. “There’s a tremendous demand, and most people want to stay at home if they can.”

Staying home, when medically and financially feasible, is now commonly regarded as the best course of action for seniors, said Carole Herman, president and founder of Sacramento-based nonprofit Foundation Aiding the Elderly. The trend started shifting that way during the past decade, she said, as tales of fraud and abuse in nursing homes began to make headlines, and families became hesitant to place loved ones there.

“Nobody wants to be institutionalized,” she said. “They do much better, physically and mentally, in their own environment.”

She expects the demand for at-home caregivers to continue to climb as more people reach old age and need extra help. Within 30 years, the number of Californians over 85 – the age group most likely to use a home health aide – will more than triple to almost 2 million, growing eight times faster than the state’s population as a whole, according to projections from the California Department of Finance.

As the economy recovers, more and more families will be able to finance the at-home care of loved ones, said Dean Chalios, president of the California Association for Health Services at Home. And as technology advances, more seniors with chronic conditions will be able to manage their health at home rather than needing constant care.

Chalios said he has seen more home care employment agencies join the association, which now has 500 members across the state. For seniors who do not qualify for the state-funded In-Home Supportive Services but do not want to be in a facility, these agencies are often the best way to find care.

For those seeking employment but lacking technical training, the agencies provide a doorway to a career.

“In many cases, these folks are caring people that are looking for work and may be unskilled,” Chalios said. “It’s a great way to add years to peoples lives. It’s a win-win.”

At Home Instead, hiring a caregiver costs between $24 and $28 per hour, depending on what services the client requires. Caregivers generally work for 20 to 25 hours per week and perform a range of tasks, including meal preparation, personal care and bathing, transportation to medical appointments and recreational activity.

While many people who enter the field of home care are certified nursing assistants or retired registered nurses, there is no training requirement. Wages range from $11 to $13 per hour, depending on the needs of the client.

For Torres, who worked in the Bay Area until moving back to Sacramento to take care of her mother-in-law and father, the job at Home Instead was a perfect fit. She does not have any nursing certifications, just an abundance of patience, she said.

“You have to go in with the attitude that they’re not just a client,” she said. “You give a lot, and it’s worth it.”

As the agency continues to recruit heavily in 2015, it will be searching for honest people with the kindness and compassion necessary for this line of work, Shaw said.

The agency is hoping to hire a few people per week, but strict screening standards make that easier said than done, said Robin Mesman, retention and recruitment coordinator. Mesman recruits on a daily basis, be it online, at local colleges and vocational schools, or through Sacramento County’s Job Club program.

“It’s not a job for everybody, and it’s kind of like finding a needle in a haystack,” she said.

Once hired, caregivers at Home Instead go through 24 hours of training, eight of which are dedicated to dementia and Alzheimer’s training. It’s those cognitive impairments that can be especially stressful for family members who may want to serve as caregivers, Shaw said.

“The warm circle of influence – family, friends, church members – can be a really great place to start,” he said. “But you don’t want to burn those relationships by putting them in this environment. ... You need to be a little realistic about when to seek professional help.”

Call The Bee’s Sammy Caiola, (916) 321-1636.