With three decades of experience helping frail elderly people with limited means stay safely in their homes, Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey is making its services available to the broader community.
Until recently, its services to the elderly — nurse-supervised home health help and housekeeping — have been only for disabled people or the frail elderly who qualify for government assistance.
Now, those same services are being offered through JFS’ new Caregivers at Home program to people who can cover the cost themselves or through long-term care insurance.
Three factors contributed to the decision, according to JFS executive director Tom Beck: its expertise in the field, the need expressed by members of the community, and the need for JFS to generate income.
Beck said the decision was made within the past few months after a year of discussions with the board and the staff.
“We have a staff of six top-notch registered nurses,” he said, “and they have agreed to take on supervising more clients. If the numbers rise higher, we will expand our nursing staff.”
The agency offers a range of support services — from counseling to food assistance to job-search assistance to those in need.
Homemakers do light housekeeping, cooking, laundry, and shopping. Health aides do much of that too, and also help clients with bathing and skin care and gentle exercises and make sure they are eating and drinking properly, among other things.
Registered nurse Karen Winter is director of the agency’s nursing and homecare services. “There was a lot to consider, but we’ve done a very good job with our traditional clients, and it’s a good cause,” she said. “This kind of home care is key to enabling people to stay safely in their homes.”
The agency started sending out information brochures and postcards a few weeks ago, and has been fielding a growing number of inquiries since then. The process involves an initial visit by a JFS nurse to assess the client’s health and home environment, and a discussion to determine the level of help needed.
“Some people don’t know how much help they need,” she said. “They might have been independent until now, but feel that they’re slowing down. The best way to do it is for the client and the nurse to discuss their concerns and to decide collaboratively what’s needed.”
The weekday fee is $18/hour for homemakers, and $21 for certified health aides. The weekend and holiday rate is $21 and $25 respectively. Clients can ask for a minimum of 12 hours’ help a week and a maximum of 12 hours a day, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
The hourly rate is higher than an independent worker might charge, but Beck and Winter point out that the agency is offering workers who have cleared its screening and background checks and who have undergone its training programs. They work under the close supervision of the JFS nursing staff and are educated as to what to report back on if they observe changes in their clients’ health or circumstances.”
The task of matching the client with a worker is not always easy, though JFS is the lead agency providing home health aide training in the county. When the decision was made to offer the private-pay service, it put out a number of announcements inviting people to apply for training. “We were flooded with calls,” Winter said, but it hasn’t resulted in all that many candidates. “We’ve had some really wonderful people, but there really isn’t a large pool of people who are suitable and willing to do this work,” Winter explained.
The agency provides the home health courses twice a year, in the fall and the spring, working with the Union County Division on Aging. The participants pay $75, and another $65 to get their license from the Board of Nursing. Maria Mullen, the nurse who has been overseeing courses for 15 years, said she screens applicants, looking for people she deems reliable, capable, and caring.
Many applicants have cared for family members and now want to develop their skills and to do such care professionally. But with the demand growing, and the payment rates not as high as in some other areas, the supply is not keeping up.
The agency’s first private clients were a couple where one spouse who had been acting as caregiver to the other needed to go away for a while. They had a person coming in to help, but there was a two-hour gap that needed to be filled. Other instances might involve respite care, for example, when a relative who usually cares for an elderly person is going away on vacation.
“It’s very comforting for family members to know their parents or relatives are being cared for this way,” Winter said, “especially if they don’t live close by and they aren’t able to check in themselves.”