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Growth in home health care offers opportunities

Michael Doepke Mary Doepke Home Helpers Wednesday May 30 2012.  | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

Michael Doepke and Mary Doepke, of Home Helpers, Wednesday, May 30, 2012. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

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Home help

While the home health care industry seems like a winning opportunity for all involved, there are some important things to consider before you go on a search for help for yourself or your parent:

Licensing. Is the agency licensed? (Since 2008, all Illinois agencies must be licensed.)

Employees vs. Independent Contractors. You’re more likely to get a caregiver who is well supervised if he or she is an employee of a service. And you will have no responsibility for payroll or income taxes.

Bonded. Is the person bonded in case of any concerns about theft of valuable property? (Adult children should remain in control of finances and remove items of value.)

Personal Attention. The company should take a personal interest in making the original “match” with a caregiver, and an ongoing role in following up on the care provided.

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Updated: May 3, 2013 12:15PM

Name one of the fastest-growing industries in America — one that has a constantly expanding market for its product and a growing need for employees. In fact, this industry is creating jobs that do not require advanced degrees, much knowledge of technology or an extensive employment history.

This industry is so important that it’s a pretty good bet that you or someone in your family will be using its product in the next few years. Then you will be grateful that this industry exists to fill your needs. And if you are looking for a job now, you might find a new purpose in life.

This fast-growing industry is not high-tech; in fact it’s very “hands-on” and basically requires competence and compassion more than any skilled training.

This fast-growing industry is home health care.

There are now nearly 50 million seniors in America — officially defined as those over age 65. By 2025, that number is expected to grow to nearly 72 million, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

While most seniors continue to live a healthy and vigorous life, the odds are that at some point they will need help with some activities of living. That need may not come immediately, but the Census Bureau projects that the population age 85 and older could grow from more than 6 million currently to nearly 21 million in 2050.

If you are in this category, where will you turn to find qualified, compassionate, non-skilled care for your loved one? If this happens to your parent, will you give up your life to care for Mom or Dad? Will your children do that for you?

The home care industry

Now you see why the home care industry is growing so rapidly. Most seniors prefer to stay in their own homes as they age. If they have no serious medical issues, that may be the best choice for enjoying senior years. Private-duty home health care for a few hours a day, or even on a full-time basis, may be less costly than assisted living or a nursing home.

But how do you find a trusted and qualified caregiver — whether you’re paying with your own money or using the benefits of a long-term care insurance policy? That’s where the NPDA—National Private Duty Association — comes in. NPDA ( has more than 1,200 members and sets industry standards and ethical care guidelines for its members.

There are several franchised home care companies, and one of the largest and most respected is Home Helpers, which has been ranked the No. 1 Senior Care Franchise for the past five years by Entrepreneur magazine. The company, founded in 1997, has more than 350 offices nationwide and employs a growing staff of well-trained and well-vetted home care workers. There are 16 franchisees in the Chicago area.

Mike and Mary Doepke have carefully built their company as a resource for seniors and their families. Mary is a registered nurse, with a lot of experience in supervisory nursing positions. Mike had a long career in corporate marketing and management. Together they manage more than 100 employees who care for the elderly or infirm.

Unlike some agencies that simply “place” independent contractors, all of the Home Helpers caregivers are employees of the company, which gives them a paycheck and benefits. Even their website name — — demonstrates their concern for their clients and employees.

Mary supervises a thorough background check of caregivers before they are hired. That includes not only a comprehensive interview, previous employment verification and reference checks, but also an extensive criminal background and driving record check. There is also pre-employment drug testing required.

After all, Mary notes, these are people being placed in home care situations with vulnerable elderly people. Each caregiver is legal to work in the United States, speaks fluent English and has a car. Home Helpers employees range from 21-year-old nursing students working to pay their way through school to a 75-year-old retiree, who enjoys being a companion to the elderly. And there are many male caregivers.

So, if you’re between jobs and have a desire to work with others in a well-defined role, this might be a new career — one that will always be in demand. Mary and Mike and all the caregivers share one very important characteristic: a positive attitude toward life and their clients.

The cost of home health care varies, depending on the situation. A live-in helper might cost as much as $7,000 a month. But if care is needed for only a few hours a day, to help with bathing, preparing food, and some companionship, the bill would be much lower.

In the end, if you’re seeking home care for a family member, you’ll want to have a feeling of trust throughout the entire process. Trust, and verification, and following your own instincts are the best guide to a successful home care experience. And that’s The Savage Truth.

Terry Savage is the Chicago Sun-Times’ nationally syndicated financial columnist and a registered investment adviser. Post personal finance questions on her blog at and

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