Sunday, March 11, 2001

Serving an aging population

Agencies such as Comfort Keepers perform daily tasks for seniors

By Anna Guido
Enquirer contributor

        Retired executive Norm Kordwitz lives alone in his Montgomery home and is proud of his independence, but he's smart enough to know his limits.

        Twice a week, the 77-year-old widower has a caregiver take him to the grocery store, do his housekeeping and help him with other tasks.

        “I think I'm sort of an outgoing kind of guy,” said Mr. Kordwitz, who no longer drives. “I love people. I know a lot of people in Montgomery.” Having a caregiver to take him places allows Mr. Kordwitz to maintain that connection.

[photo] Robyn Ostempowski of Comfort Keepers assists retired executive Norm Kordwitz, 77, with his grocery shopping at the Kroger store in Montgomery.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
        As the nation's population ages, more people are seeking some help with day-to-day tasks rather than electing to go to managed-care centers full time.

        On a recent trip to Kroger, Mr. Kordwitz talked with friends and employees while his caregiver, Robyn Ostempowski of Comfort Keepers, helped him with his shopping.

        Some days, before getting to work, the two will sit and chat over a cup of coffee. Mr. Kordwitz, who has been a widower for more than seven years, said he cherishes the companionship.

        “I cry every night,” he said of his late wife. “I miss her.”

        Companionship is one of four main areas of service provided by Comfort Keepers, which opened recently in West Chester Township, Butler County. Others are light housekeeping, meal preparation and transportation.

        Comfort Keepers serves Cincinnati's northern suburbs and is part of a national chain based in Dayton.

    Comfort Keepers, 9624 Cincinnati-Columbus Road, Suite 215, primarily provides non-medical in-home care for the elderly. Care is also available for people in nursing homes, assisted-living situations and for new mothers. For information, call owner Bob Puthoff at (513) 755-3710 or e-mail; Web site:
        Mr. Kordwitz says it's marvelous.

        “Of course, it costs me money,” he said. “But I've got the luxury.”

        Rates for Comfort Keepers are charged on a sliding scale and average between $14.25 and $15.75 an hour.

        Charlotte Pieples, an information and referral specialist for the Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio, said cost is the main drawback with businesses such as Comfort Keepers.

        “These businesses target a specific population, and that's wonderful, but the majority of people we service can't afford that,” Mrs. Pieples said. “I'd just like to see the cost be a little more reasonable, but that probably won't happen because you need to pay a good salary to get a good caregiver.”

        The Council on Aging provides some of the same kinds of services with sliding-scale fees, but with case managers (people who advocate on behalf of the client). Senior citizens must meet age, health and income criteria to qualify for Council on Aging services and reduced rates.

        “A lot of the people we serve have some disability and need help,” said Bob Logan, Council On Aging's chief executive officer. “And a lot of our service providers (those who work for the agency under contract) are for-profit companies like Comfort Keepers.”

        Mr. Logan thinks that individuals best served by businesses such as Comfort Keepers are people such as Mr. Kordwitz who are “independent and able to act as their own case manager.”

        “They just have to be able to look after themselves and advocate for their own well being,” Mr. Logan said. “These businesses have a place.”

        Jerry and Kristina Clum, Comfort Keepers' founders, think their business serves a proven niche.

        “Kristina was a registered nurse working in home health-care,” Mr. Clum said. “She was providing medical services, and her clients invariably would ask her to do other things. But she wasn't allowed to do other things, and it became difficult for her to tell an elderly lady that she couldn't run down the block and pick up a gallon of milk.”

        The Clums started their business in March 1998 in Springfield, Ohio. In the first year, they had 50 clients and more than 30 caregivers. They opened their first franchise in August 1999. They now have 80 offices in 29 states.

        There's no question that Comfort Keepers and other businesses like it are providing a much-needed service for the nation's aging population.

        Mrs. Pieples of the Council on Aging said the need for caregivers for those ages 65 and up in Greater Cincinnati has reached such a crisis that the Council on Aging is now offering training in the field.

        Nationally, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the elderly population will more than double to 80 million by 2050 and more workers will be needed to provide the personal and physical in-home care for this segment of the population.

        Fueling this imbalance are several factors.

        “Years ago, someone was usually home to take care of the elderly,” Comfort Keepers' Mr. Clum said. “Another issue is how much more mobilized society is today. It's not unusual for families to be spread all across the country.”

        Further, the elderly are now living longer, and neighborhoods are not as tightly knit as in the past.

        “When you take away family and friends, there's not a lot of alternatives left but nursing homes and assisted living,” Mr. Clum said.

        Bob Puthoff, owner of the West Chester Township franchise, said his late grandmother's living situation was one reason he left his corporate job to start his Comfort Keepers business.

        “My grandmother was in and out of nursing homes,” Mr. Puthoff said. “She lived off and on with my aunt, who was her caregiver, but my aunt had some bad health.”

        Wanting a job that was more fulfilling also played a part in his decision to leave his job as manager of graphic designers for a grocery distributor.

        “I wanted to work somewhere that would make me feel good at the end of the day,” Mr. Puthoff said.

        Mr. Puthoff, 33, a Moeller High School and University of Cincinnati graduate, said his goal with Comfort Keepers is to provide great service for people in need.

        “People deserve to have a life no matter how old they are or how limited their functionality is,” he said.

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