By Allen Payton
As a Registered Nurse for 35 years, Constance Tolbert knows what it means to serve the needs of others. She got an early start in health care by serving as a candy striper while a school girl in Connecticut.
“She was born to care for people,” said husband and co-owner James.
Her service in the Army Nurse Corps brought her to California in 1982 when she went on active duty. Then, after being in the reserves, her medical unit, the 6253rd, was activated and transferred to the Persian Gulf during Desert Storm in 1990. Constance served in Fort Carson, Colorado, replacing a nurse who had been deployed.
After briefly retiring in 2013 from Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, she wasn’t done helping others and chose to work as a traveling nurse for a year.
Then in 2015, after being inspired by her mother who had owned a residential care facility for the elderly, Constance and James chose to buy a franchise of Seniors Helping Seniors.
“It was divine intervention,” Constance said. “We liked the mission of the company, which is based on Mother Teresa’s life work of serving others.”
The founder of Seniors Helping Seniors, Karen Yocom had worked with the soon to be Catholic Saint for 14 years in India.
“What also inspired us to go with this company is they have a different marketing model to reach seniors,” James shared. “Based on our previous work at our church, everyone we dealt with there were seniors. So, we liked the idea of hiring seniors to help other seniors.”
Their definition of senior is anyone age 50 or over for both the caregivers and the clients.
Since starting their franchise, which covers a territory of Concord to Discovery Bay, and including all East County communities, they’ve grown to a multi-cultural staff of 40. They include seniors from Puerto Rico, Guam, Fiji and Philippines, as well as others who are Japanese, African American, Hispanic and Caucasian.
“We can provide a caregiver so that people can be cared by those from their same culture,” Constance said.
“We cover the rainbow,” said James, who adds his years of experience and Masters Degree in organizational management. He’s also an Air Force veteran who currently works for the U.S. Department of Labor.
Most of the caregivers work part-time, as they’re either retired or in their second careers. Their clients range in age from as old as 98 and some as young as age 52.
“We try to match clients with senior caregivers with similar life experiences,” said James. “We had one client who was a Gulf War veteran. So, we were able to match her with a caregiver who is a fellow veteran and knows all about the VA in Martinez.”
They have a special program for low-income, military veterans or their spouses, called VetAssist which taps the Aid & Attendance benefits they qualify for.
“We’re able to access those benefits, quicker than if they were left to just go through the VA system,” James shared. “That could take six to eight months. We’re able to get it done in one or two months.”
“It’s critical for us to provide services to veterans, because they’re a forgotten group,” Constance said. “It’s definitely an honor for us to serve our fellow war time veterans who served this country.”
The services Seniors Helping Seniors provide include companionship, meal preparation, transportation for doctor appointments and others, light housekeeping, personal grooming and dressing, medications, showering assistance, and respite care for the main, family caregivers. Some seniors they serve have permanent disabilities, such as those who are blind, have dementia or are amputees, and are not ambulatory. Some younger seniors need help for temporary disabilities due to accidents, surgeries or injury.
“We have a transition program with hospitals, to reduce the readmission rate,” James shared.
“If a Medicare patient is readmitted within a 30-day period for the same diagnosis, they are responsible to pay the costs,” Constance explained. “With in-home care we are able to help them stay at home with the needed care, with such things as medication reminders, and proper nutrition. That’s critical, because so many who forget to take their medicine or don’t eat right, end up getting readmitted to the hospital.”
“Those costs can be as much as $5,000 a day,” she added.
“We’re able to help them avoid spending their savings and borrowing from their retirement account,” James said. “They could pay $30,000 at the hospital or just a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, with us. Plus, they’ll have someone who will provide them one-on-one care.”
The rates for the services of Seniors Helping Seniors are $26 to $28 per hour with a minimum of two hours per day, based on care needs. They also offer overnight stays and 24-hour care, seven days a week.
The Tolberts are also able to reach outside of their franchise territory to serve those who aren’t currently being served by a franchisee, such as in Martinez, and even San Joaquin Valley cities like Tracy, Manteca and Modesto.
Should you, a loved one or other senior you know have a need for in-home care, contact Seniors Helping Seniors 24-hours a day at (925) 698-6145 or firstname.lastname@example.org for a free RN consultation and assessment. They are bonded, insured and licensed with the State of California, and are in compliance with the new regulations that went into effect as of January, this year. For more information visit their website at www.seniorcarebrentwoodca.com.