Pictured: Living Well Senior Solutions team members Mindy Horgan, Peggy Slade-Sowders (the director), Susan Miller, care manager Margaret Sexton, and Sarah Shaffer.
Susan Miller can be there for older adults in Greater Cincinnati when a best friend or daughter cannot, visiting them in their homes, or taking them to restaurants or other places they enjoy.
Care concierges like Miller at Episcopal Retirement Services’ Living Well Senior Solutions (LWSS), serve as shopping partners, artistic colleagues, attentive listeners, even confidantes, who also help older adults see other people and places they want to continue visiting.
Continued living with joy
Miller and several other care concierges at ERS’ LWSS are highly competent people who help older adults who are accustomed to a certain style of living continue on their paths. The concierges don’t do hands-on care such as help with showers or administer medicine. Instead, they infuse fun, even helping clients elevate hobbies they’ve long enjoyed. They also can offer a watchful eye, communicate changes to the client’s care manager and help give the older adults’ families peace of mind.
One of Miller’s clients loved to paint, but had stopped. Miller, a former art teacher, felt it was because his new apartment wasn’t properly set up to summon his artistic muse.
“I felt that from a painter’s perspective, it was because of the location of his painting materials, and his table was too small. There was no lighting,” Miller said. “So we put music on, and I moved his entire room around, and changed the location of his painting table, and I put more light behind it, and put it closer to the window, and I rearranged his entire apartment, and then we painted together.”
They also listened to his favorite music, and he told her stories of his younger years, about getting together with his wife, and the outdoor dances they attended.
Because of her art background, Miller also has helped avid hobby photographers continue their craft, assisting at photo-shoot locations, even offering photo-editing ideas.
There is no typical client. Some may need a little extra support, companionship, are new to town, or new to a retirement community. LWSS clients do not need to live in ERS continuing care retirement communities, and in fact can live in those of ERS competitors, or in their own homes. The care concierges serve clients on an ongoing basis – not with one-time sessions.
Playing with snakes!
Concierge Sarah Shaffer plans to spend time at the Adirondacks summer home of a client whose family can’t be there that week.
“I’m so excited,” Shaffer said. “We’ve already talked about her teaching me how to fly fish.”
“She’s incredible,” Shaffer added about that client. “I am amazed every single Thursday that I get to hang out with her.”
Many visits to the 90something-year-old woman’s home are adventures. Shaffer has learned how to make a quiche. They’ve hung laundry out on the clothesline. They’ve looked at birds and plants together. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that Shaffer’s client enjoys as much as she does – especially the teaching, and sharing her expertise. They love spending time together.
One recent week, “We were watching a snake in the process of shedding its skin."
While the client wanted to touch the snake, “I said, ‘Absolutely not, because I’m not the best with snakes,’” Shaffer said.
“Thirty minutes later, we couldn’t find the snake, but we found the skin, and she took it, and she is planning on putting it in a picture frame, or in a glass coffee table,” she said. “It’s always a very interesting day with her.”
Visiting other places
“The concierge role is really the best role, because it’s just for fun,” says Mindy Horgan, another concierge.
“I have one lady I take to go grocery shopping, and I take her to get a manicure every week,” she said. “And I have another lady I take to the doctor’s office, but I also take her out to lunch sometimes. And that can be really fun.”
With one client recently, “We tried a Mexican restaurant,” she said. “She’s in her 90s. That was very interesting. She wanted to try this restaurant because she had been there before, and I was really surprised because there was loud Mexican music playing, and a lot going on in the restaurant, and she loved it. She had a great time.”
Horgan has written out instructions for one client to use her electronic tablet for zoom meetings with family. She assists with her emails and is in communication with the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired to tweak the woman’s computer so she can see it, despite her visual impairment.
In a low-key way, Horgan accompanies one client to an upscale social club, using discretion to avoid the perception that the client needs any assistance.
“The best thing about the job is that I meet these people who are just incredible people,” who have lived full, fascinating lives – sometimes, with several ‘brave’ chapters – Horgan said.
About one client, who’s in her 80s, Horgan says: “Every day, she shows up. She does all the things, and she tries to learn something new all the time. It’s amazing.”
Horgan genuinely considers clients friends, noting, “I’ve learned a lot from them, and I like being around every one of them. They’re all really interesting. They’re lovely people.”
Bringing joy to clients, and comfort to their families
Peggy Slade-Sowders, director of ERS’ LWSS, says concierges do many of the light tasks a daughter might while visiting her mother. They provide support to do things that help a person enjoy life, along with some errands they need assistance to complete. This could include grocery shopping, trips to nail or hair salons, outings to museums, and personal shopping via computer or at the mall.
“Recently, we helped to ship two boxes of family heirloom Christmas ornaments to their daughter in Florida,” Slade-Sowders said.
They’ll chat while they clean a closet, make a visit to the Cincinnati Art Museum. Launch zoom meetings. They’ll pick up family at the airport so they can attend a birthday party. They also can be an extra set of eyes for adult children of clients, keeping them updated on changes that happen that may increase their parents’ needs for more healthcare assistance.
“I have such amazing people who really give of themselves to the folks they’re working with,” Slade-Sowders said about her well-educated, sophisticated team. “They do amazing, amazing things with them.”
Team members, likewise, enjoy their work.
“It has been a great, rewarding job,” Miller said.
“It really is just a special job where you can connect on a personal level with someone who, frankly, when people get old, people don’t take the time to connect with them very much, and so they appreciate that connection so much,” Miller said.
Other LWSS services, and how to get in touch
Aside from care concierges – the ones who bring mostly fun – LWSS also offers Aging Life Care Professionals, who do the more serious work of helping guide older adults and their families in a holistic and client-centered way through the complex healthcare system. They support overwhelmed families through assessments, monitoring, planning, problem-solving, and education. They also advocate for their clients and their families, and connect them with supportive services.
The aging life-care professionals meet stringent requirements and are expert with older adults’ issues that may need to be addressed as their healthcare needs change. They can help people successfully remain at home, continue to effectively travel, or transition to a care community.
People interested in learning more about LWSS services can visit https://www.episcopalretirement.com/services/living-well-senior-solutions or can call Slade-Sowders at 513-561-0222.