Elevate Aging to Bring Real Change

SYNERGY HomeCare recently had a chance to celebrate Dr. Felix Gbee, one of our new franchisees and the owner of SYNERGY HomeCare of Leesburg, Va. His story is remarkable. He came to the United States in 1997, fleeing civil war in his native Liberia, and attended St. Thomas University in Minneapolis. Following his graduation, he was headed to law school when the attacks of 9/11 occurred and he enlisted in the U.S. Army. As he told Beth Ewen of Franchise Times, Felix “thought about my time, my family's time when we were in distress and the nation that came to our aid. It was for me the natural thing to do, to join the military and, for lack of a better term, come to the nation’s aid.”

Serving in Iraq, Felix earned numerous honors and after a 20-year career and a medical retirement, found a place in our company. He and his wife, Sabita, had spent a lot of time contemplating how older adults are treated in the United States. They were searching for a way to help and the COVID-19 pandemic gave them the final push to do something.

“Back home, it’s a thing of pride to take care of one’s parents or grandparents. The concept of a group home or a nursing home is not something I grew up with,” he said. “After retiring from the Army, I wanted to find a way to continue serving my community.”

Felix is not alone. ASA members know many who feel a responsibility and sense of calling to care for older adults. So it makes me wonder why we have such an entrenched ageism problem in our nation.

I believe we all have a responsibility to “Flip the Script.” Let’s turn aging into an inevitable joy, a continuation of independence where years of acquired knowledge creates rewards. All of us working with older adults take this responsibility seriously.

Think of the power behind the millions of us who work in the field. From caregivers and RNs to case managers and geriatricians—we can change the narrative. Yes, we are swamped, need more help and, at the moment we are dealing with the incredible challenges of the pandemic.

Yet somehow, we need to come together and use our voices to tell our stories and those of our clients and their families. We need to educate. We need to talk to the Sandwich Generation and understand their challenges. We need to adapt to the needs of the Baby Boomers who increasingly want to age in place.

A higher profile for aging may attract more professionals to the industry and spur more employee caregiver benefits.

We face a bit of an uphill battle and must overcome some challenges. One challenge is a lack of reporters dedicated to the aging beat. With newspapers and magazines struggling financially, it’s odd that these news outlets would shift away from their most avid audience—older Americans. Even stranger are the ads in these publications—for senior services, medical devices, retirement and assisted living communities.

You would think that if advertisers are attuned to the audience reading papers, the editors would be, too. Sure, they run retirement stories, or occasional pieces on financial planning and such, but we need more consumer outlets like Next Avenue, Kaiser Health News and Paula Span’s column from the New York Times.

There are not enough reporters covering issues in aging, providing information and tips. And I don’t think we can rely solely upon AARP or our partners at ASA and the National Alliance for Caregiving.

The other challenge is time. We have countless clients, cases, patients and a cascade of daily crises that make it difficult to be strategic and look to the future. But if we don’t put forth that effort, who will?

And it’s not as if the need for education will subside any time soon.

You read the same stats that I do. We know that 10,000 people turn 65 each day and that The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that 40 million Americans provide some type of unpaid care for an older loved one. This leads to the growing need for our combined services with McKinsey predicting an increase of 35 million healthcare and eldercare jobs worldwide by 2030.

Thankfully President-Elect Biden appears poised to raise the profile of caregiving.

You may have seen Paula Span’s recent story about President-Elect Biden, who is committed to bringing caregiving and financial support for it to the forefront. Should he succeed with those initiatives, his 10-year, $775 billion proposal to improve the caregiving infrastructure would be a huge boost.

A higher profile for aging may attract more professionals to the industry and spur more corporations to offer employee caregiver benefits. Dialing up the volume on the conversation around aging also will encourage adults to accept that they may need home care at some point, will create greater awareness of the benefits of paid caregivers, along with an understanding of the full continuum of eldercare.

We already see a slight shift. As the home care industry matures, inquiries to our call center and franchisees are more and more focused on the types of available care and the differences between them than the traditional “How much does it cost?” question.

That is a big step. Awareness is the first step toward acceptance. We need to do more.

We clearly need more people like Felix and Sabita, who recognize the changing demographics, while embodying a desire to make a difference. And we are going to need our collective voice to share the positives of aging and the quality work we do that ensures joy, independence and longevity.

Charlie Young is the CEO of SYNERGY HomeCare, which is headquartered in Gilbert, Ariz.