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#12 - Exploring the Benefits of Home Care for a Longer, Happier Retirement

“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home ”

- Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz

Mary Greer's personal connection to caregiving is deeply rooted, having been a caregiver for her grandmother, mother, father, and great-aunt. Her passion for working with seniors, disabled veterans, and others who may be overlooked or forgotten is truly inspiring. Mary's mission is to give back dignity to individuals who may have lost it due to illness, accidents, or old age.

"I wanted to do something meaningful, and I love working with Seniors." 

After successful careers in the automotive and construction industries, Mary wanted to finish out her career with a job she loved and a company with values and integrity. Mary was able to find First Class Caregivers. First Class Caregivers is a Dallas-based senior care company that provides premium non-clinical, in-home caregiving services on a private-pay basis. Founded in 2007, they are a veteran-owned business with a customer-first focus.

In addition to caregiving, Mary is also passionate about educating women on what care is available for them and what is coming in the future. At some point, everyone will be a caregiver or need a caregiver and if she can assist them in being prepared-"that is a bonus to my day."

Over the course of the conversation, Eric and Mary discuss the importance of home care for seniors and the benefits of staying at home for as long as possible. She shares her personal experience as a caregiver and her mission. She also talks about how First Class Caregivers tailors its services to meet the specific needs of each client. 

You can learn more about Mary’s story by reading a recap of the episode below, on YouTube, or listening on your favorite podcast app!

Wendy McConnell - Welcome to the Simply Retirement Podcast, with your host, Eric Blake. I'm Wendy McConnell. Well, that is a different quote. I'm sorry I had to giggle a little bit.

Eric Blake - That's all right. I was hoping for that. Did you know that Dorothy's last name was Gail? Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz? I had no idea.

Wendy McConnell - It's not something that's common knowledge, but yeah, I did know that at some point. Why that quote today?

Eric Blake -Because we have a very special guest. We’re being joined by Mary Greer. Mary is responsible for business development for First Class Caregivers, a Dallas-based senior care company that provides premium, non-clinical in-home caregiving services. This continues a series of episodes we've been running on long term health care. In our last episode, we chatted with Dina Mabry, a long-term care specialist. She helped us define what long-term care is, and more importantly, some options for paying for long-term care. If you haven't listened to that episode, please go back and listen to episode 11. 

Today we’re focused on home care because nobody really wants to go to a facility. But how can you or your family member stay in your home as long as possible? Mary Greer is going to answer that question. Mary, welcome to the Simply Retirement podcast.

Mary Greer - Thanks so much, Eric. And actually, I knew that Dorothy's last name was Gail because The Wizard of Oz happens to be my favorite movie.

Eric Blake - I have to tell you, my wife is a history teacher, and she knows every single detail behind the story of The Wizard of Oz. There’s more to it than most people realize related to the Depression and all kinds of things. The characters and who they each represented is amazing. I may have to have her on the podcast sometime, just to explain The Wizard of Oz to all of us. 

The Origins of an In-Home-Care Business

Eric Blake - We had a chance to chat with Mary before the recording and got a bit more of her story and her background, and it's pretty amazing. She's kind of a Renaissance woman. She's got her hands in all kinds of different things. But one of the things she says is, ‘I'm here to help, and when I say that, I really mean it.’ I'd love to have you tell your story, Mary, and how you ultimately got into the home care world.

Mary Greer -Let's go back to The Wizard of Oz for just a second. I always watched it with my grandmother, and she would never let me watch the part about the flying monkeys because she thought it was a little too scary for me as a child. To this day, I’ve never seen the part of the Wizard of Oz with the flying monkeys. I’d always get up and leave the room, turn my head or something. I really enjoyed the time that I had with my grandmother, and that led me a lot into what I'm doing today. 

I don’t come from an elder care background or a clinical background. I come out of automotive instruction, which is about as far away as you can get. But I was the caregiver for my grandmother, for my mother, for my daddy, and for my great aunt Rose because she and I outlived everybody else that had put me on the path. I love working with seniors, disabled veterans, the folks that sometimes fall through the crack or get forgotten. I have a mission statement that says as you develop an illness or get older or have an accident, the first thing you lose isn’t your eyesight, your hearing, your sense of smell, or your ability to walk. The very first thing you lose is your dignity.

I get up every morning and go to work with a plan to give someone back their dignity. In home care, I have the ability to touch someone in some way every day that gives them back a portion of their previous life and gives them back a little bit of dignity that a disease or an accident or old age has taken away from them.

Eric Blake - Mary, I have a bit of a selfish reason for having you on. My grandmother, who is extremely close to me, was widowed when she was 62. Our family is going through this today. My aunt and my mom are both responsible for providing care for her now that she’s 88, and she’s trying to stay in her home as long as possible. I'm hoping to pick up nuggets of insight that I can pass along.

Assessing the Client and Family’s Abilities

Eric Blake - What I'm really interested in is the unique challenges and needs of senior citizens when it comes to home care. How can your expertise address these challenges?

Mary Greer - Well, the first thing we do as a company is start talking to the family. We go out and do an assessment. All our assessments are free, and that helps us determine what's going on. When you see Grandma or your loved one every day, you may not see aspects of their decline. We conduct that assessment, and then three months, six months down the road, we come out and do another. It shows you that Grandma could do these ten things in June, and now it's October and she can't. That's the very first thing, to really assess the situation. Our care director has 30 years of experience. She’s risen through the ranks, but she's got boots on the ground. She's able to look at a situation and know not only what's going on today, but what pattern it is going to follow for the months and the years to come. It's very hard on family members to be caregivers. I've done it. It ain't easy and it ain't pretty either. We come out and show you tricks to help you …  things like how to hold the family member when they get up, so instead of them falling and you having to call someone to help get them up, we literally teach you how to hold them so that they slide down your body and you can pick them up off of your legs instead of off of the floor. She shows how to get people in and out of bed without hurting them, because as they get older, just somebody catching them by the arm can break their arm or cause a big skin tear.

Everybody wants to stay in their home, and it’s been proven that you'll probably live 4 to 5 years longer if you're in your home or what you consider home. If you’re where your church is, where your friends are, where your grocery store is and you can walk there, it gives you a sense of peace. But that isn't always possible without having help. What we try to do is to educate. We're not going to come out and say you've got to have caregivers. Even if that’s what you need, we're not going to approach it like that. We're not in business to scare anybody. We want to come in and educate you and find out what your needs are. 

Maybe you or your family can't afford to go to a community home. They’re very expensive, where if you stay at home, you already own it, and that cuts down a lot on your expenses. When somebody can come in and give the caregivers a break, that helps a lot, too. We try to do that, maybe a weekend off or a week off or something like that. It makes it easier to keep your loved one at home. Still, the very first thing is to get them assessed and see what's going on in the home. A doctor can assess you in his office, but he doesn't see your home. My joke about this is that my mother had a 3800-square-foot house, and she collected rugs. When she broke her leg, I can’t tell you how many trips I made to the garage with a load of throw rugs over my arm. She loved her rugs, and she didn't want carpet. 

When we assess the home, we watch your family member and tell you things. My first suggestion is for it to be First Class Caregivers, but there are over 600 caregiving companies in the DFW area. I personally think we're the best, but call someone, get them to come out and do an assessment, and watch your family member in action at home. Start from that point. Establish a baseline and proceed from that point.

Customized Services Based on Individual Needs

Eric Blake - So say an assessment has been done and it's been determined through your recommendation or a joint effort between the family and your company that in-home care is needed. What type of care could somebody expect? Give me an example of a caregiving situation where you're coming into the home. What types of services do you offer in those types of scenarios?

Mary Greer - Well, we're non-medical, so if they need some type of medical treatment, we’d do medication reminders and make sure the medicine is taken. I like to think of us not so much as a company, but more like your cousin Maude has come for the day to help. We're going to come in and develop a relationship with the client and the client's family. We do meal preparation because it’s very important that our seniors eat regular meals. We're going to constantly be reminding you of water because when someone has dementia or Alzheimer's and they're going through sundowner’s syndrome, they’re not drinking water and they're going to get a UTI and end up in the hospital. We come in, we do the meal prep, and we help with the baths. We can do a standby assist if you need us to. We can help in the shower. We provide transportation to doctor's appointments. We go in and make notes if the family needs that, or light housekeeping. 

We're can really do anything you want because we build a custom program for every single person we have as a client. Some companies will give you a menu to choose from, but we don't do that. We build the program that you and your family member need, and we base everything on their needs. We can start at four hours of care or go all the way to 24 over seven. We can do live in. We can cook three meals a day. We can walk the dog. We have one client where we help feed the horses. We're there to do what you need, 

Eric Blake - I have to share a quick story because you actually described almost the exact scenario that my grandmother is dealing with, the sundowner syndrome. Later in the afternoon, she forgets that she's in her own home, but she remembers the dog I had when I was a teenager. It’s like she has pictures that scroll through her mind, and she says, “Oh, there are you and Sandy running down the beach.” It's just the most amazing thing that she remembers that like it was yesterday, and you're happy she still has those memories that she can look back on, but obviously it gets frustrating. That's one of the biggest challenges.

Mary Greer - And we're coming into the time of year when it gets dark earlier, and it stays dark later in the mornings. I recommend that everyone going through this goes to their hardware store and pick up the light bulbs that simulate sunlight. Put those in the house because it will give them more of an idea of sunlight, and ease them into the evening hours, especially during the winter or when it’s a dark, cloudy day. It really will help the person to have simulated sunlight.

Eric Blake - That's an excellent suggestion. Just a couple more questions. How do most people pay for your services? Is it strictly out-of-pocket or long-term-care insurance? What are the options for how people pay for this type of care?

Mary Greer - We accept long-term-care insurance, and we work with all companies. If it's a company we haven't worked with, it takes maybe five minutes for us to get set up. We also do private pay, of course, and we accept VA.

Making a Real Difference

Eric Blake - Okay, excellent. Mary, I try to wrap up with this question. Has there been a situation where you felt like you really made a difference in somebody's life? Is there an example you can give? You don't have to share names, of course, but just where it touched you and you said to yourself, ‘This is really why I do what I do.’

Mary Greer - Yes, we have a couple of little old ladies — I say that very lovingly — and they don't want to leave their home. By us coming in, we've been able to keep them in their home. It’s the house that was left to them by their parents. And honestly, I don't think they would thrive in a community setting because they have horses. They have dogs. I think they have ducks and chickens too, because, their house was, at one time, considered to be out in the country. So now they're able to stay at home and have their pets and their lives, and hopefully, they'll end their days there. Whenever I think about them, it’s always a great feeling. 

One thing I'd like to add, Eric. is that if anyone has any questions about senior, disabled, or VA care, please call me or contact me in some way. If I can't help you, I can pretty much guarantee that I know the person who can. I don’t charge consulting fees. I’ll simply introduce you to who you need to know. I've got a couple of friends who have written books on senior living and I'm also happy to pass those along to people. Please let my network work for you.

Eric Blake - So there are a couple of books we could put in the show notes?

Mary Greer – Yes, in fact I have copies right here. We have Secrets to Senior Living, which is a step-by-step guide to choosing the right option for your family. It was written by Tiffany Ricketts, who owns a care home in Denton. And I have Paying for Long Term Care. It's the essential guide to understanding and funding senior care. It was written by Jules Hicks. Those are two amazing books written by by local authors that give you an idea of how to take care of yourself.

Eric Blake - Perfect. One thing I don't want to miss is preparation, the idea of seeking out help well before you actually need it. And also, what happens in an emergency situation and a quick decision has to be made? Could you share a bit about that?

Mary Greer -Certainly. Long-term planning is amazing, but anybody that calls me pretty much needed to call me last month. The good news is that we can get you set up really quickly. Last month I had someone call me at 4:00 on a Thursday afternoon. and she said, ‘Mom's in hospice.’ And we're just dead tired and need a break. But I said, ‘Okay, let me get some information.’ 

I got some basic information. asked when she wanted services to start, and she says, ‘How about today? How fast can you get here?’ We were there in an hour and a half. So we can do quick turnarounds, and we try to. It's not ideal, but Grandma breaking her leg, Daddy having a seizure, nothing about senior care or disabled care is ideal. If we can get out there, we will. We'll get out as quickly as we can. A lot of times, our care director Ophelia will actually go out and do it herself because our client needs a break. If you need help right away, call me.

If I can't do it, I’ll help you find somebody who can.

Eric Blake - One of the things I really wanted this podcast to be about is providing resources to women who are planning for retirement, beyond just talking about taxes and Social Security. Those things are critically important from a financial perspective, but one of the things that can quickly derail a retirement journey is having to become a caregiver or being responsible for providing care for a family member. Whether it's the emotional side or the financial side, it’s the woman who's taking responsibility for caring for her parents. That's why I want to let people know about resources like you, so they know who to turn to when they find themselves dealing with these types of challenges.

Mary Greer -You don't know what you don't know. When I learned that my mother would be moving out here in 2016, I didn't know there were companies that helped you find communities. I was literally driving down the road saying, ‘Ooh, that one looks good.’ I'm not saying that to be funny. I didn't know. There are professionals who do everything in senior care, but if you don't know who they are and you don't know how to contact them, it doesn't help you. 

I'm starting to see multigenerational households where the care is falling on the youngest female, and she usually has a job and a couple of children herself, but she's taking care of her mom and dad, maybe her grandma and grandpa and a great-aunt and uncle. And sadly, a lot of women have gone through divorces or they’re widows and they aren’t prepared. That's where somebody like me comes in. If you call me and say, ‘This is what's going on, I’ll help you get to Eric Blake. I’ll help you get to the Haven House and find someone who can help you. Because sadly, we aren't prepared. We aren't prepared to be our own caregivers and we aren't prepared to be other people's caregivers. 

I believe that’s the worst thing facing women today is that the time is coming when they're going to have to be a caregiver or need a caregiver, and they don't know all the steps to take. I want to keep women from making a mistake that's going to cost them a lot of money, and maybe cost them their health. That's why I get up every morning and go to work. 

I don't have to work, but I love what I do, and I want to help other women. I've been through a divorce, and I've been through the death of a spouse. I've been very fortunate, but a lot of people haven’t, and that's what the people like Jules Hicks and Tiffany Ricketts and Sheila Williamson and the people we all know, we're here to help you navigate this bumpy, rocky path.

Eric Blake – Mary, how can people get in touch with you? Website phone numbers, anything you want to share?

Mary Greer - Well, you can go to our website, www.firstclasscaregivers.com. You can email me at Mary.Greer@FirstClasscaregivers.com. And you can call or text me. My phone number is (214) 738-4939. If you reach out to me, I’ll get in touch.

Eric Blake - Perfect. Thank you so much for joining us today. Please reach out to Mary Greer if you have questions or would like more information about how she can help you and your family, and how First Class Caregivers can help. 

If you'd like to learn more about us at Blake Wealth Management, please visit our website at www.blakewealthmanagement.com where you can learn more about our team. You can access many of our free resources, including our newsletter, our YouTube channel, and our blog. If you're a woman who is less than five years from retirement and you have questions about how to optimize your Social Security benefits, minimize your lifetime tax liability, and invest smarter, be sure to click the Start Here button on the website to learn more about our process for helping you make an educated and informed decision about whether we’re the right firm to help you navigate your retirement journey.

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