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Senior health care feels right at home

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As more baby boomers choose to stay in their homes as they age, the home health care business is booming in the Greater Lehigh Valley and across the country.

“The trend is as people are getting older they don’t want to live in a nursing home. People want to stay at home,” said Lisa Lacko, an adjunct professor in the gerontology certification program at Cedar Crest College, Allentown.

“If you talk to people, the one thing they are afraid of when they get older is losing their independence.”

More than 35,000 home health care companies nationally and nearly 200 in the region have sprouted up over the last few decades to meet that need.

The market is expected to only get bigger. Pennsylvania has the fourth oldest population, with nearly 2.7 million people 60 and older. And like the rest of the country, it is getting older. By 2030, an estimated 3.6 million Pennsylvanians will be 60 or older.

With the U.S. population over 65 expected to nearly double in the next 30 years, investors are seizing an opportunity and pouring private equity funds into the home health care industry.

Peter Ross, co-founder and CEO of Senior Helpers, a Timonium, Md.-based home care franchise that is one of the country’s largest, has said he is “bullish” on acquiring more home health care businesses.

Jeff Tintle, managing partner of Thrive Media in Lower Macungie Township, which publishes Lifestyles Over 50, said he has seen “tremendous growth” in the number of home health agencies in the Lehigh Valley since he founded the publication 12 years ago.

Tintle said there are now about 100 home health companies operating in the Lehigh Valley, 69 in Lehigh County and 30 in Northampton County, including 15 franchises.

Tintle conducts and publishes an annual benchmark survey of local home care companies on a variety of performance indicators, such as home care rates, employee compensation, billable hours and other measures.

“There is a lot of demand out there [for home health care] with the coming wave of baby boomers,” Tintle said. “And there is a lot of opportunity. I don’t know if I can say it’s lucrative, but there’s money to be made” although the margins are thinner than other businesses, he said.

The businesses in the region range from independents to franchisees. Nonmedical care is usually paid for out-of-pocket by individuals although it may be covered by some long-term care insurance and Medicaid waivers and a variety of other programs.

‘THIS IS IT’

Pam Bartlett, owner of Senior Helpers of the Lehigh Valley, based in Salisbury Township, bought the franchise four years ago after having had a successful career in sales and marketing at the former Day-Timers in East Texas.

Bartlett was looking for another career when the opportunity came up to buy the home care franchise.

“It never occurred to me to do anything like this,” she said. “Then a light bulb went off: this is it. I can help people not go through what I went through.”

PROVIDING PEACE OF MIND

The home care business made perfect sense to her because she had firsthand experience worrying about elderly parents and in-laws who were having difficulty taking care of themselves.

Bartlett and her sister both lived out of state and could not care for their parents, who were determined to say in the home they had built in 1954.

Bartlett watched as her 80-year-old mother became exhausted taking care of her 84-year-old father, who was sick and becoming increasingly unable to care for himself and needed round-the-clock care.

The home health care company that provided caregivers gave them peace of mind, she said.

SHORTAGE OF CAREGIVERS

Fifteen months after her father died, her mother needed caregivers after she was in a car accident, and later died from her injuries.

“I had been through quite a bit with my parents,” Bartlett said. The home care business “makes sense to me. There’s a need. I get the value to the seniors that we care for who are able to stay in their homes and live where they are comfortable.”

Bartlett said her business is growing, but it’s been challenging.

“There’s a caregiver shortage. Anyone you talk to in my industry will tell you that,” she said. “We have had a hard time keeping our hourly shifts filled because of that.”

COORDINATION OF SERVICES

Senior Helpers provides nonmedical care, which can range from providing companionship, cooking, laundry and providing transportation to doctors’ appointments and other errands, to helping people with tasks of daily living such as bathing, dressing and toileting.

Bartlett has a nurse on staff who can coordinate services for people who need skilled care services, such as physical rehabilitation.

“We work with other disciplines within the senior community to make sure they have the services they need,” Bartlett said.

Many of her clients are in their late 80s and 90s.

“People are definitely living longer,” she said.

COMPLEX INDUSTRY

Bartlett said her business is still in “building mode” and sees it being profitable down the road.

The home care business is more complex than it may appear, she said. There are a lot of moving parts, lots of overhead, insurance, an office and staff that requires schedulers, care managers, caregivers and training.

“If you want to make a ton of money, this is not necessarily the business to do it,” Bartlett said. “We’re doing something of value and changing the quality of people’s lives.”

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Jeff Tintle June 1, 2017 10:56 am

The article is well done and captures the opportunities and challenges of the home care industry in the Lehigh Valley. We are in the midst of our 2017 home care survey and market study; if anyone would like to participate or receive a copy they may contact me jtintle@lifestylesover50.com

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