Lending a helping hand | Kitsap Weekly

Martha & Mary's At HOME Program helps older residents stay independent

Olga Brouwer and Leisa Lanham have a lot in common.

They’re both single mothers who are raising or have raised their children on their own. They’re both loving, caring, family people who value the knowledge and experience that older generations have. And they both are women who have returned to the workforce recently.

But the most important thing they have in common is that they are caregivers for the Martha & Mary AT HOME program.

“I’ve had a love of older people since I was very young,” Lanham said. “When I was growing up in Texas, I lived a football field-and-a-half away from a nursing home. I’d go down there on the weekends and spend time with my ‘adopted’ grandparents. But until I started with Martha & Mary, I didn’t realize that caring for the elderly was actually a paying job.”

That’s something that Diane Wasson, administrator of the AT HOME program, finds to be frequently true.

“People aren’t aware that caregiving is a profession,” she said. “They don’t know that they can do this and be paid for helping others.”

Wasson, and others at Martha & Mary are hoping to change that. About 90 caregivers work in the AT HOME program, but they could use another 35 to 45 people, who care for aging clients in the clients’ own homes.

“We always need more caregivers,” Wasson said. “As the population ages, we’ll be needing more and more.”

She said a recent statistic she read indicated that, nationally, about 12.4 percent of the population is 65 years of age or older. But in the Pacific Northwest, 17.6 percent are in that age range.

“In the next 40 years, those who are 65 and older will double,” she added.

The goal of the AT HOME program is to keep aging residents in their own homes as long as possible. In order for that to happen, though, an older resident often needs some help. That’s where caregivers come in.

Martha & Mary’s AT HOME program has been operating since 2009. In 2012, Washington state regulation changed and now caregivers must be licensed. That means a training program of 70 hours of classroom instruction, after which each student must pass a state exam. The cost of the training is $350 to $400 and Martha & Mary AT HOME will help with some or all tuition.

Wages paid to caregivers depend on the caregiver’s level of experience, and the time of day and days of the week that each works. Caregivers have flexible schedules and can work from three to 40 hours a week. Most caregivers are paid for services by private means, although some long-term care insurance policies will cover the costs.

For Lanham, it was the perfect fit. Currently, she cares for three clients, all in their 90s.

“These people are just so wonderful,” she said. “They have the most amazing stories to tell from their life experiences. We can learn so much from them.”

She helps a 95-year-old client take her daily half-mile walk. She takes her to a Bible study class and shops for her. Another client is European and likes to watch old movies.

“Sometimes, we put on the ‘Sound of Music’ and just sing and dance to that,” Lanham said.

Other things Lanham does are light cleaning, cooking and preparing meals, making sure clients take their medications, running errands and taking them to doctor’s appointments.

Like Lanham, Brouwer fell into caregiving about four years ago. They were in the same training class.

“I was looking for a job and I saw this ad online,” she said. “I attended an introduction session and I knew I wanted to do this.”

Brouwer, who is from Colombia, found real meaning in caregiving.

“I’m doing this to honor my mother,” she said. “She had Alzheimer’s and dementia and because she was in Colombia, I couldn’t be there to help her. I knew this was the thing I could do to make up for that.”

Brouwer’s mother passed away five years ago.

As a caregiver, Brouwer has one goal for each work day.

“I want to leave them with a smile,” she said of her clients. She cares for a man who is 80, a woman who is 90 and another woman who is 95. Her chores range from helping the man, who is an amputee, get around his home in a wheelchair; helping the 90-year-old woman bathe; and watching “Judge Judy” with the 95-year-old woman.

“They are lovely, lonely people,” she said. “They are always very appreciative. It makes my heart this big,” she said, holding her arms out wide.

Although they are warned not to get too close to those they are caring for, sometimes they can’t avoid that.

“We become friends,” Brouwer said. “And when they have to go into nursing home care, or when they pass, I have my own way of mourning for them.”

Martha & Mary helps with that too, offering counseling to caregivers.

“I’ve never been a part of any other business or organization that is so supportive of their employees,” Lanham said of Martha & Mary.

For Lanham, being a caregiver is fulfilling.

“I have a personal need to serve others,” she said. “I want to give back to the generations who have served us.”

Brouwer agrees.

“Every time I care for someone, I see my mother’s face in them,” she said. “It just makes me feel so good.”

To find out more about becoming a caregiver, or getting caregiving services, call 360-871-4425 or go to www.marthaandmary.org/home-care.

Martha & Mary offers long-term home care services; and a “Welcome Home Package,” which helps individuals transition back into their homes after hospital stays.

Leslie Kelly is specialty publications editor for Sound Publishing’s Kitsap News Group. Contact her at lkelly@soundpublishing.com.