When she was a young girl, Jennifer Fernandez spent a lot of time with her mother caring for an elderly neighbor.
“Our neighbor lived alone, and my mom and I visited her every week to bring her groceries and clean her house,” Fernandez said “Later, I worked nights with the terminally ill. This work was one of the most rewarding times of my career.”
Five years ago, Fernandez followed her passion for the elderly and their desire to remain in their homes through their golden years, by purchasing a Senior Helpers franchise. Her Senior Helpers office serves 80 percent of San Diego — from North County to downtown.
Senior Helpers was founded in Baltimore in 2002 by two gentlemen whose first-hand experience helping their own family members age at home led them to create a company that could deliver excellent in-home care with a well-trained staff of professional caregivers. By 2015, when Fernandez purchased the San Diego franchise, Senior Helpers had grown to include a network of more than 300 locally owned and operated franchises across the United States.
Although she owns a national franchise, Fernandez said she is a completely hands-on owner-operator: “I personally meet with every potential client in order to best match that client with their caregiver. Each client gets a personalized plan and schedule that is based on the family’s specific needs and goals. We create a bond and get a routine. It’s very rare for a client to request a change in caregiver.”
She sees each client on a regular basis and is out in the field all the time, she explained. During this interview, she paused to communicate with a caregiver who had taken an ill client to the doctor, and relayed updates to the family.
When a family realizes they need help for an elderly member, their main choices are assisted living, a private caregiver, or an agency like Senior Helpers. Senior Helpers takes care of many details that private caregivers can’t, like managing payroll, providing insurance, ensuring the caregivers are licensed, conducting background checks, and thorough training.
“One of our biggest goals is continuity of care,” she said. “If for some reason the primary caregiver isn’t available, we have a backup at the ready, and this backup has also met the client. Someone will always be available. I value both our caregivers and clients. Without good caregivers, we have no clients.”
She added that she doesn’t necessarily look for caregivers with facility experience: “I’m really looking for someone with a passion for the elderly. We can train for tasks, but not for passion.”
Compared to assisted living, Fernandez said Senior Helpers can provide one-to-one care in familiar surroundings. “It’s calming for the client and peace of mind for the family. We’re also very familiar with all the available benefit programs such as VA, and can guide our client families through that maze,” she said.
Unlike other agencies, Senior Helpers has no minimum requirement for hours per week. “Not everyone needs a full day of care,” she explained, “maybe it’s an hour for a shower or grocery shopping.”
Senior Helpers also offers specialized programs. “Senior Gems,” Fernandez said, “is for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. The care is designed to help patients continue to do what they safely can do. Many families don’t really know how they can work with a loved one. For Parkinson’s patients, the plan is to keep exercising both the body and the mind. It’s important to do both, it slows the progression and improves mobility.”
Senior Helpers may be with a client and their family all the way to end-of-life care. “Sometimes it’s us who tells the family it’s time to bring in hospice,” she said. “We fill in the gaps with hospice care, and the family has the comfort of knowing someone experienced with the end-of-life process is always there.”
Most of Fernandez’s clients and caregivers have been with Senior Helpers for the five years she’s owned the business. “I love that,” she beamed. “Some of my best days result from the appreciation that comes from family members.”
By Chuck Dunning | La Jolla Light