Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Ohio home-care company grows

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

FAIRBORN, Ohio - Helped by the aging of America, an Ohio home-care company has expanded to 46 states in five years as many people find that taking care of ill or older parents and other relatives often requires some outside assistance.

Comfort Keepers has more than 370 offices, employs 4,000 workers and has 7,500 customers.

"The primary trend that is helping us is general demographics," said Jerry Clum, the company's founder. "People are getting older, and there are more people who want and need what we provide."

One of Comfort Keepers' customers is 50-year-old Jean Burdeshaw.

In New Orleans on a business trip, Burdeshaw was standing in front of her hotel room mirror touching up her makeup when she was hit by a stroke without warning.

"All of a sudden, I realized my left arm wouldn't work," Burdeshaw recalled. "By the time a (security) guard got to my room, my left leg wouldn't work."

Hospitalized for three months, she returned home to this Dayton suburb in January and spends most of her time in a wheelchair. She turned to Comfort Keepers to cook, do laundry, clean, run errands and drive her to therapy.

Clum started the company in Springfield in 1998 with his wife, Kris. A registered nurse, she used to come home from work distressed because her employer wouldn't allow her to provide clients with anything other than medical care because it cut into her productivity when she would do their laundry or run errands.

Within six months the couple had 18 employees. In a year they opened their second office, in Dayton. Later they began to sell franchises. Sales last year totaled $72 million.

"It was the right marketplace at the right time," Clum said.

There are about 20,000 U.S. home-care businesses, agencies and hospices that provide both medical and non-medical care in the home, according to the Washington D.C.-based National Association for Home Care.

Val Halamandaris, president of the association, said some people seek out home care because they become more vulnerable to disease and accidents as they age. A home-care worker could be there to prevent a fall that could land a client in the hospital and eventually a nursing home, he said.

"If you receive some sort of help and structure your home with things you need, you may be able to stay in your home longer," Halamandaris said.

Burdeshaw decided against staying at an adult day-care center because she didn't want to spend all day away from home at a place where she couldn't hook up her computer and where there was no one to help her exercise.

"I've already lost so much and to spend my whole day in that kind of a facility would have been so depressing," she said.

Sherri Rutherford Wieland, program manager of the Senior Care Adult Day Center in Dayton, said she had not noticed home-care companies cutting into her business to any great degree. She said she sometimes works with home-care companies to decide what is best for prospective clients.

Burdeshaw hired a home-care worker at $16 an hour - which adds up to about $1,000 a month.

She hopes to return to her job with a division of NCR Corp. but doesn't know when she will be physically able.

"This just happened out of the blue," she said.

National Association for Home Care: http://www.nahc.org

Comfort Keepers: http://www.comfortkeepers.com/

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