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Visiting Angels homecare agency spreads its wings

by: Carole Archer, Visiting Angel caregiver Marilyn Colburn, left, surprises client Helen Ashbaugh, 86, with a gift of fudge and divinity Friday, Dec. 28, in Ashbaugh’s Gresham home, which Ashbaugh shares with her daughter and son-in-law DeeAnna and Robert Larson. Colburn and Ashbaugh sometimes have overnight “slumber parties” when her daughter and son-in-law are out of town.

A home-care provider must be adept at a lot of roles: nurse, driver, companion, cook, confidant, cleaning person. Add detective to that list.

Marilyn Colburn may not model herself after Joe Friday, but she considers intuition and the ability to interpret clues key elements to effective care giving.

'It takes a detective-type person to make sure everything's going OK,' she said. 'When people get old they sometimes don't know what they need or what's wrong with them, particularly if there's a lot of dementia involved. You have to make those decisions when no one else is around.'

Colburn is a caregiver for Visiting Angels Living Assistance Services, a national franchise with a recently opened office in Gresham. Visiting Angels provides a variety of care options beyond the traditional assisted-living and nursing home facility settings. Fall prevention, medication and fluid reminders, light housekeeping, grooming or bathing assistance, and running errands are among the services Visiting Angels provides.

A caregiver for nearly 10 years, Colburn enjoys the close interaction her work allows.

'This is totally different,' she said of Visiting Angels services. 'At a nursing home, sure, patients get the care they need, but they don't get something until they ring a bell. This way you get to know the people. It's more personable.'

Colburn signed on with Visiting Angels after seeing an ad placed by Monica Courtney, who opened a Gresham Visiting Angels office in October with her husband, Robb Courtney, Parks and Recreation director with the city of Gresham. The Courtneys are well aware of the increasing need for elder care options.

'A growing number of seniors want to stay in their homes,' Monica Courtney said. 'We did our research. Now we have a waiting list.'

A former teacher at Good Shepherd School, Courtney relished the opportunity to work with people in her community.

'We love people,' she said of herself and her husband. 'We just want to do something to make a difference. Everybody knows somebody who's dealing with a senior parent and trying to figure out what to do next.'

With more than 300 franchise agencies, Visiting Angels is one of the largest non-medical, private home care agencies in the United States. The organization provides senior and elder care, respite care and companion care on any time frame that suits a client, up to 24 hours a day.

Home care providers have been around a long time, but Courtney and Colburn believe the aging Baby Boomer population will lead to demand for a growing range of services.

'Because of the Baby Boomers, it's gonna be anything from (helping) someone take pills with lunch to 24-hour care,' Colburn said.

One lady she's about to work with, who suffers from mild dementia, just wants her to check in periodically.

'She just wants someone to look in on her in the morning and make sure she hasn't forgotten to eat her lunch,' she said

Before Baby Boomers seek out care for themselves, they're expressing interest in caring for the current elderly population. Several of Courtney's caregivers are retirees trying to give something back.

'They're retired people who may be getting bored and looking to make a difference,' Courtney said, noting that one of her caregivers is 62 and another is 72. 'We like to match caregivers with their needs and personality. We really try to get a feel.'

Although all Visiting Angels facilities agencies are bonded, licensed and insured, the services are non-medical, so caregivers don't need special licenses or certifications.

'All they need is care-giving experience,' Courtney said. 'For those with tons of experience and people skills, this is very rewarding.'

Courtney learned about Visiting Angels through a friend who opened a franchise in Vancouver, Wash. Discovering a market the Portland office could not ideally cover, the Courtneys acquired the Visiting Angels territory encompassing East Multnomah County and part of Clackamas.

'Visiting Angels is all territory based,' she said.

Since opening in October, the Gresham office at 22 N.E. Fourth St. has attracted 11 new clients. The growth prompted Courtney to seek an office assistant to help with the state-mandated administrative paperwork.

'That's one (client) a week,' she said. 'We've grown very fast.'

For Colburn, care giving requires a personal, as well as professional, commitment. She is impressed with Courtney's warm approach to the fledgling agency.

'She honestly likes people,' Colburn said. 'She's starting with a quality attitude. She's not doing this for money. She's doing it because she really cares about people.'

The Gresham Visiting Angels agency can be contacted by calling 503-661-0600 or by visiting www.visitingangels.com.