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Providing senior care with a heart of gold


Gresham business offers in-home aid to help seniors remain independent

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Tom Keolker (right) and branch coordinator Jana Thorn over see 15 local caregivers in the East County area, who provide seniors with help in everything from bathing and dressing to meal preparation and administration of medication.

There’s a delicate dance required when broaching the subject of age-related limitations with a loved one, especially if signs point to their need for assistance in their daily life.

And while the knee-jerk reaction is usually to embark on research for an assisted living facility, Thomas Keolker says it’s not always necessary.

“A lot of people do just fine in their own home with a little help,” said Keolker, co-owner and co-founder of Hearts of Gold Caregivers. “So many people don’t know home care is an option — they don’t know bringing someone into the home is possible. That’s the focus of what we do, is help keep people independent and in their own home.”

Keolker and his British-born wife, Faith, founded Hearts of Gold Caregivers in Hood River in 2008. The company expanded to Gresham earlier this year, to further aid those seeking the transition between independent and assisted living for a loved one.

Keolker was born and raised in Eugene. He graduated from the University of Oregon, and spent the majority of his professional career crafting artificial limbs everywhere from Shriners Hospital for Children in Portland to Sri Lanka.

But after 15 years overseas with the Red Cross, Keolker came home and found himself addressing an issue facing so many baby boomers these days — how to help an aging parent.

“My mom’s health was beginning to go down hill,” Keolker said. “I had bought a house in Hood River with my sister so I would have a place to come home to when I came back from overseas. We decided to move mom to Hood River. Eventually, we had to move her to an assisted living facility. That’s when we learned about home care.” by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Keolker and his British-born wife Faith, founded Hearts of Gold Caregivers in Hood River in 2008, after Keolkers mothers health began to decline. The company expanded into Gresham earlier this year to further aid those seeking assistance to help a loved one remain in their home.

As Keolker and his family discovered, the dramatic increase in the aging U.S. population has given birth to a wide variety of services and products aimed at senior citizens.

With so many seniors striving to remain independent in their own homes, while facing physical limitations, more and more in-home caregiving businesses are popping up to help folks with light housekeeping, meal preparation and running errands.

Hearts of Gold began as a companion service, with caregivers providing mainly transportation services and light housekeeping. By 2009, the company had upgraded its state licensing, which enabled it to expand its in-home services to include the administration of medication and some nursing tasks.

But helping a loved one understand that a little assistance is not a sign of weakness, Keolker said, can be tricky. While they may agree to the idea, they often view interference by an adult child as a restriction to their independence.

“Older folks are so trusting,” Keolker said. “They’ll run an ad in the paper and say, ‘Oh they have a nice smile, let’s hire them.’ They don’t know to do a background check or a drug test. Bringing a stranger into your home to help you is difficult at best. That’s why we spend so much time getting to know our clients, so that we can tailor our services to be the best fit possible.”

Keolker is a stickler for detail, which is no surprise given his earlier work in the intricacies of prosthesis making. He refers to himself as “picky” about who he hires as caregivers and conducts each client’s assessment personally. The bottom line, he said, is meeting the client’s needs without controlling their lives.

“The whole process is designed so I know what their daily lives are like and where the gaps are,” he said. “From that, I create a specific service plan that is what the caregiver follows.”

Hearts of Gold’s caregivers are subject to background checks and drug screens. They are intensely trained to provide everything from bathing and dressing to light housekeeping and end of life support.

Hearts of Gold has 60 caregivers in Hood River and 15 in Gresham. The company also employs three registered nurses.

“The nurses are responsible for medication services,” Keolker said. “They are in communication with the doctors so they know what those meds are that they’re putting in (pill containers). Caregivers can administer medication, but the nurse has to delegate those services to them and it’s unique to each client.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Thorn signed on with Hearts of Gold after learning of the companys mission last year. She was her husbands primary caregiver the last two years of his life and knows well the need for in-home health services. Keolker understands well the dilemma facing baby boomers, having addressed the same issues several years ago with his own mother. But striking a balance between preserving an aging parent’s independence and their need for a little help is rewarding.

“I love what I do — going into the homes and getting to know these people,” Keolker said. “It’s hard work but it’s fun. I sleep well at night because I feel good.”

Planning ahead makes sense

Facing the implications of “getting old” and what needs may arise, is a concern of any adult child with aging parents. But waiting until a crisis occurs — discharge from the hospital on short notice, for example — could prove to be problematic without a plan. Keolker recommends meeting the issue head-on, to learn what mom or dad would like to do when the mind and body start to fail.

• Talk about it. Ask mom or dad what their wishes are and how family members can best support them through a chronic illness or other health crisis. Putting off the discussion, Keolker said, makes it more difficult to gather resources if something unexpected happens.

• Form your caregiving team. Find out who can help and how. Caregivers can be close relatives or friends, neighbors, friends from church or others who care about the welfare of a loved one. Be sure everyone has a chance to talk about their role and understands their responsibilities. Assemble contact information for those on the caregiving team and provide copies to everyone.

• Talk about goals and make a plan. Help mom or dad express their needs and wishes. From that, create a general plan that includes a list of specific steps to meet their wishes and who is responsible for carrying them out.

• Gather important information. Locate, organize and regularly update documents, contact information and other materials the caregiving team will need in a crisis. This should include the loved one’s health history, medications, allergies, wishes for long-term care; legal documents like a will, living will, power of attorney and anything related to property ownership; life and health insurance policies; and financial records like pensions, annuities, investments and bank accounts.

• Housing options. Do mom or dad want to stay in their current home with some modifications or additional help? Would they prefer assisted living or a retirement community?

• Research available services. Know what services are available for current or future needs, including home care, adult day-care services, home-delivered meals and help with every day activities.

Contact info:

Hearts of Gold Caregivers is located at 39 N.W. Third St., Suite D, in Gresham. The company can be reached at 503-328-8214 or visit heartsofgoldcaregivers.com.