Sunday, February 18 , 2018, 7:55 pm | Fair 55º


Noozhawk Talks: Couple Finds New Calling in Senior Care

Owners of Home Instead Senior Care embrace challenges of keeping people right at home

Susan and Mac Johnson, owners of Home Instead Senior Care, have dedicated themselves to the “silver tsunami” of aging baby boomers who want to continue to live at home, but need extra help to do so. Leslie Dinaberg recently sat down with the couple.

Leslie Dinaberg: I know this isn’t a first career for either one of you and that you moved from San Francisco. How did you come to be involved with senior care?

Susan Johnson: We wanted to do something that really represented our values. We had both worked in major corporations and had been involved in corporate politics for many, many years, and been in situations where we didn’t feel we were working in an environment that reflected our value system. We spent about six months looking and came to a decision to go into senior care. Both of us have 85-year-old parents, so we had an understanding of some of the things we were going to be facing.

Mac Johnson: ... Then the question was where. It was really tough for us not to move back to the Midwest and be halfway between Susan’s parents and mine, but it just wasn’t the right thing to do. And we looked at Santa Barbara and we looked at Santa Barbara, and we finally said, you know, it’s a wonderful place. The demographics absolutely support the business. Let’s go to Santa Barbara.

LD: That’s a big move. Give me an overview of what Home Instead Senior Care does.

MJ: We improve the quality of somebody’s life who needs assistance to remain living where they live today. That assistance could be something as simple as coming in and helping somebody get up in morning, and help them get bathed and get dressed, and fix their breakfast and their lunch, and remind them to take their medications and leave. ... We can do anything that is outside of the skilled medical world. We are not a licensed medical home health company ... When those things are required by one of our clients we would partner with a home health-care company to provide that type of assistance.

Typically, as an example, is somebody who fell and broke their hip. They went through the surgery and then a rehabilitation facility and then they come home. ... The physical therapist is not going to be there to help them get bathed and get dressed, and since the person had hip replacement they can’t probably stand for the length of time needed to prepare a meal, and they can’t get in their car to run to the store, and who’s going to get them to their doctor’s appointment and they may not have any family here? That’s where we come in. What makes us different than a home health company in that we match caregivers to clients to build a relationship.

LD: So tyou would have the same person?

MJ: Absolutely. And the value system for clients today, their No. 1 value that they want is quality of care; No. 2 is continuity of care.

LD: I keep hearing about the nursing shortage and how hard it is to get health-care workers. Is it difficult to find people?

MJ: Yes. ... That is going to be one of the major concerns as the boomers start to need help. ... It’s difficult, but I think when an organization has the right reputation for people in this community who want to do this kind of work, it’s rather easy to attract people and then also retain them. It’s a much easier proposition than if you’re not a good employer.

LD: How do you train and find caregivers?

SJ: We’re not trying to look for only a certified health-care worker. We’re looking for people who, in many cases, have had other life experience besides health care, because we have a relationship business. Then, we find it’s easier to train the person who really has an interest in working with seniors for specific tasks versus trying to help somebody who is trained to do tasks to really care about the person. ... I don’t mean to say that a health-care worker doesn’t, but it’s a very different model to take care of 25 people a day than it is to really be involved with one person, or one or two people in the case of a couple.

MJ: The most important aspect of training that we provide is we do not send a caregiver brand-new to an assignment. Somebody on staff will go with the caregiver to make sure they have a complete understanding of the care plan for that particular client.

LD: That makes sense. How closely do you work together?

MJ: (Laughs) Extremely closely. ... Probably the biggest struggle was for me. ... I had to accept that work was work and home was home, and it took some time. ... When we opened our North County operation I would spend typically four days a week up there ... but for the hour drive up and the hour drive back it would usually be us talking about something that was going on. I would say this is definitely a partnership, and I wish we would have done this years ago because this is great fun.

LD: Have you noticed any distinctions between the Santa Maria and Santa Barbara offices as far as what there’s a call for.

SJ: I don’t think so. People are people. I mean I know the North and South counties are different, but in terms of what people are looking for in quality of life it’s just the same.

MJ: The only difference I think is the caregivers in North County are not intimidated by distance. So for someone living in Lompoc to drive to Santa Maria for a job is a nonissue, but in the South County for someone who lives in Goleta to go to a job in Carpinteria is like asking them to go to the moon. (Laughs)

LD: I would imagine just from the nature of the service that your clients are at least middle class, just to be able to afford such a program.

SJ: I think a lot of people think our client base would just be the wealthy, and actually it’s not. It’s really a lot of middle-class people. Fortunately, for that generation of people that we’re providing service for now, I think those people have saved money and they have assets available to take care of themselves. It doesn’t mean they’re not paying attention to their money right now, especially with the economy, but they saved their money to be able to take care of themselves.

MJ: It is not uncommon for the children to participate in the process, if not pay for it 100 percent. We’ve had a number of situations where we have divided the bill up into different amounts for various siblings. ...

LD: That makes sense having the kids pay because it’s peace of mind, too, especially for those who don’t live locally. Is there anything else I should ask you about?

MJ: I could probably talk about this business for much longer than you would want to listen. (Laughs) This is an opportunity that Susan and I were given to be able to give something to people and what we receive in return are things that we never got in our corporate careers. We have a book of thank-you cards from families and from clients and from caregivers that you know is just uncommon. You never would have experienced that in a corporate position. So you go home at night and you feel really good about who you are and what you do.

Vital Stats: Susan Johnson

Born: Dec. 11, 1946, in Omaha

Family: Husband Mac; children Denise, Kevin, Beth, Megan, William and Sarah; grandchildren Charles, Helen, Charlie, Sam, Ella, Brigitte and Roan

Civic Involvement: Women’s Board of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art; Financial Abuse Specialist Team; Elder Abuse Prevention Council; Friendship Center board vice president; executive committee of the Santa Barbara Association of Health Care Providers

Professional Accomplishments: Owner, Home Instead Senior Care. Attorney, teacher, English and journalism professor, owned a small retail business that specialized in needlepoint and quilting.

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: William Trevor’s Cheating at Canasta (short stories)

Little-Known Fact: “I was in a hoola hoop contest in grade school.”

Vital Stats: Mac Johnson

Born: Nov. 16, 1945, in Shelpina, Mo.

Family: Wife Susan; children Denise, Kevin, Beth, Megan, William and Sarah; grandchildren Charles, Helen, Charlie, Sam, Ella, Brigitte and Roan

Civic Involvement: Board president, Easy Lift Transportation; former board member, Catholic Charities; consultant to the management of the Thrifty Shopper operation for Catholic Charities; Area Agency on Aging.

Professional Accomplishments: Owner, Home Instead Senior Care. Worked at Mutual of Omaha for just over 25 years, in high tech and sales and marketing; chief distribution officer for what is now AAA, the California State Auto Association.

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: Rereading the works of Mark Twain on a Kindle.

Little-Known Fact: “I spent several years in East Africa in the 1960s in the military intelligence community.”

Noozhawk contributor Leslie Dinaberg can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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