An Industry That Won’t Stop Maturing

06/18/2012 6:15 am EST

Focus: HEALTHCARE

Terry Savage

Author, The Savage Truth on Money

With the number of seniors in America now sharply increasing, home health care is expanding to greet them. And chances are you may need to arrange the services of a home-care aide for yourself or a family member in the near future. MoneyShow.com personal finance expert Terry Savage shares some tips for navigating this field.

Name one of the fastest growing industries in America—one that has a constantly expanding market for its product, and a growing need for employees. In fact, this industry is creating jobs that do not require advanced degrees, much knowledge of technology, or an extensive employment history.

This industry is so important that it’s a pretty good bet that you or someone in your family will be using its product in the next few years. Then you will be grateful that this industry exists to fill your needs. And if you are looking for a job now, you might find a new purpose in life.

This fast-growing industry is not high-tech…in fact, it’s very “hands-on,” and basically requires competence and compassion more than any skilled training.

This fast-growing industry is home health care!

There are now nearly 50 million seniors in America—officially defined as those over age 65. By 2025, that number is expected to grow to 72 million, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

While most seniors continue to live a healthy and vigorous life, the odds are that at some point they will need help with some activities of living. That need may not come immediately, but the Census Bureau projects that the population age 85 and older could grow from more than 6 million currently to nearly 21 million in 2050.

If you are in this category, where will you turn to find qualified, compassionate, non-skilled care for your loved one? If this happens to your parent, will you give up your life to care for Mom or Dad? Will your children do that for you?

The Home Care Industry
Now you can see why the home-care industry is growing so rapidly.

Most seniors prefer to stay in their own home as they age. If they have no serious medical issues, that may be the best choice for enjoying senior years. Private duty home health care for a few hours a day, or even on a full-time basis, may be less costly than assisted living or a nursing home.

But how do you find a trusted and qualified caregiver—whether you’re paying with your own money, or using the benefits of a long-term care insurance policy? That’s where the NPDA—National Private Duty Association—comes in. NPDA has more than 1,200 members, and sets industry standards and ethical care guidelines for its members.

There are several franchised home care companies, and one of the largest and most respected is Home Helpers, which has been ranked the No. 1 Senior Care Franchise for the past five years by Entrepreneur magazine. The company, founded n 1997, has more than 350 offices nationwide, and employs a growing staff of well-trained and well-vetted home care workers.

Mike and Mary Doepke have carefully built their Home Helpers franchise as a resource for seniors and their families. Unlike some agencies that simply “place” independent contractors, all of the Home Helpers caregivers are employees of the company, which gives them a paycheck and benefits.

Mary, a registered nurse, supervises a thorough background check of caregivers before they are hired. That includes not only a comprehensive interview, previous employment verification, and reference checks, but also an extensive criminal background and driving record check. There is also pre-employment drug testing required. After all, Mary notes, these are people being placed in home-care situations with vulnerable elderly people.

Each caregiver is legal to work in the United States, speaks fluent English, and has a car. Home Helpers employees range from 21-year-old nursing students working to pay their way through school to a 75-year-old retiree who enjoys being a companion to the elderly. And there are many male caregivers.

So, if you’re between jobs and have a desire to work with others in a well-defined role, this might be a new career—one that will always be in demand. Mary and Mike, and all the caregivers share one very important characteristic: a positive attitude toward life and their clients.

The cost of home health care varies, depending on the situation. A live-in helper might cost as much as $7,000 a month. But if care is needed for only a few hours a day, to help with bathing, preparing food, and some companionship, the bill would be much lower.

Home Help Checklist
While the home health care industry seems like a winning opportunity for all involved, there are some important things to consider before you go on a search for help for yourself or your parent:

  • Licensing—Is the agency licensed? (Since 2008, all agencies must be licensed in Illinois, where I’m based, but laws vary in different states.)
  • Employees vs Independent Contractors—You’re more likely to get a caregiver who is well supervised if he or she is an employee of a service. And you will have no responsibility for payroll or income taxes.
  • Bonded—Is the person bonded in case of any concerns about theft of valuable property? (Adult children should remain in control of finances, and remove items of value.)
  • Personal Attention—The company should take a personal interest in making the original “match” with a caregiver, and an ongoing role in following up on the care provided.

In the end, if you’re seeking home care for a family member, you’ll want to have a feeling of trust throughout the entire process. Trust, verification, and following your own instincts are the best guide to a successful home-care experience. And that’s The Savage Truth.

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