During her final months in a long-established career as a midlevel IT manager for a global manufacturing company, Newtown resident Wendy Seiler received a crash course in caregiving — with all the time-consuming administrative duties that come with it.
And a few months later, when her position was outsourced and she found herself looking for a new career, Ms Seiler told The Newtown Bee, she sat down to consider not what she wanted to be doing a decade down the road, but who she wanted to become.
“I had the experience of being a caregiver to my aging parents, which presented a very complex learning curve,” Ms Seiler said. “But it also occurred to me that so many others were going through the same thing at the same time. I thought it was unfortunate that every single family that has to go through the transitions that aging and health challenges bring, has to learn how to do it for the first time.”
As she considered her future, she sought the services of FranNet, a company that matches individuals with a choice of business franchise opportunities that are uniquely suited to their passions and abilities. One of the short-list options her consultant discovered was Assisted Transition.
Assisted Transition owners like Ms Seiler learn how to best help families locate the best senior living options by providing referrals to assisted living facilities, nursing homes, residential care homes, senior housing and other industry resources.
“What I like to tell people is, if your aging or ailing loved one needs in-home assistance, I won’t do it for you, but I can find you someone who will,” Ms Seiler. “Having gone through it myself, I can say that helping a loved one during these difficult times is one of the hardest but most gratifying things I ever did.”
Ms Seiler said in the course of establishing her local Assisted Transition office, she has learned that a lot of people like her go to work in elder services after they have done it themselves.
In just the few weeks since she opened the local office, she is finding that people who are thrust into the role of caregiver or administrator for a loved one requiring moderate to advanced care seldom know what resources are available to them.
“I recently consulted with a family who I learned would have qualified for Medicaid, but they didn’t think to ask about it,” she said.
Few Affordable Options
After deciding to pursue the Assisted Transition opportunity, Ms Seiler traveled to southern California for training. Upon her return she canvassed many of the assisted living and skilled care facilities in the region and discovered that the area is lacking in affordable assisted living opportunities for individuals.
“I discovered that in the western United States there are thousands of four- to six-bed board and care homes that cost residents between $2,000 and $3,000 per month — that is half to one-third of the cost of an typical assisted living facility in this area,” she observed. “Although it appears the need for these types of facilities is much broader here, it is not the primary industry focus.”
Ms Seiler also knows from her training that families in transition have a lot of other options. As part of her service, she will come in and analyze a client’s current situation.
“I look at their level of independence, mobility, and whether the client or loved one already needs regular assistance with things like walking, cooking, or bathing,” she said. “We also examine the client’s emotional health, whether there appears to be any clinical issues like depression, and whether there are any conflicts within the family or among the person’s medical care team.”
Among the most important pieces of advice she gives potential Assisted Transition clients is to be sure an aging loved one has their affairs in order.
“Make sure a younger, capable, and willing loved one is assigned power of attorney (POA). Even if there is a spousal situation, this is a preferred option versus assigning power of attorney to each other,” she said.
If an individual hopes to age in place in their own or a family member’s home, versus in an outside facility, Ms Seiler helps to determine where the client will settle, what might be their short- and long-term needs, and whether the family needs to consider other physical or financial planning.
“It’s like running air traffic control for families in need,” she said. “I am finding that the lack of planning is the most critical concern facing the clients I’ve already met.”
She said families should maintain a central file containing all critical documents with all applicable business and personal information that is accessible either to the POA or a younger family member who can step in if someone is suddenly incapacitated. That file should also contain all the necessary passwords in the event various services like utilities and bank accounts need to be accessed or cancelled.
Caregiver Expenses Mounting
If no family member is available to step in to help, Ms Seiler can recommend an elder law attorney who can discuss the option of establishing a conservator.
She advises families to also be prepared for the financial demands tied to an aging loved one’s transition.
“A full-time caregiver in Connecticut costs about $70,000 a year. Assisted living arrangements cost about the same,” she said. “Twenty-four-hour care runs about $200 a day, which means for the most part you have to be pretty financially capable to grow old in Connecticut. I hope that issue is addressed soon, because there are not enough affordable assisted living resources here right now for people who need them.”
To that end, Ms Seiler said that a care facility designed by The Greenhouse Project is establishing its first state operation in Fairfield in the coming months.
“If their existing reputation for quality care can be maintained, it will be ideal for those individuals who need assisted services but can only afford $2,000 to $4,000 a month,” she said. At the same time Ms Seiler knows that there is no “cookie-cutter approach” when it comes to establishing future care for local families’ loved ones.
“So I’m here to be a go-to resource for everything elder care-related,” she said. “My focus will always be on the family, and on making sure seniors have the care they need in a safe environment with emotional support.”
Once an initial consultation is completed, Ms Seiler will offer an in-depth analysis for a client at a nominal fee. Depending on the outcome of that analysis, she will then establish whatever next steps a family may require, with a compensation structure based on the level of assistance necessary.
“There is always some value a family can get from the initial consultation, even if families are not ready to make a firm commitment to future care for a loved one,” she added. But her biggest fear is for families suddenly caught up in being forced to find help.
“For so many, it’s way harder than it needs to be with a little help. If someone falls and breaks a hip, or has a heart attack, the last thing a family wants to be doing is casting around with no idea of where to go for help,” she said. “One client was told that her loved one was about to be discharged from a rehab situation, and they handed her a pile of brochures and basically said ‘good luck.’ Others will hand you a list with 30, 40, or 50 providers and leave the family to figure most of it out for themselves.”
After just a few months of operation, Ms Seiler is equipped to handle from two to four clients a week, and is already considering bringing on an assistant if the demand for her services continues to expand. Currently, she holds the only Assisted Transition franchise in Connecticut.