ILWACO, Wash. - When retirees move to coastal communities far away from family, there's often a need for an extra hand around the house. Visiting Angels wants to help.

Amy Loudenback and her husband recently expanded their Visiting Angels franchise to serve the Long Beach Peninsula. Visiting Angels of Southwest Washington is a non-medical home care company that provides caregivers for three to 24 hours a day. The caregivers provide services such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, personal care and companionship.

“Our hope is that this office will be about half the size [of our Vancouver office],” Loudenback said. The Vancouver office has five office staff and ranges from 50 to 60 caregivers.

“I’d very much like to have office staff out here … I’d love to be able to provide jobs,” she said.

Loudenback said the market looks good, particularly in Pacific County. “We spent the last year talking to people here,” she said, and the folks they talked to told them to come.

Nearly 25 percent of Pacific County residents were 65 years old or older at the 2010 census, which is more than double the overall percentage in Washington.

Loudenback and her husband were investing in real estate with the goal of raising enough money to start a business together when they became familiar with Visiting Angels through friends who own one of the largest Visiting Angels franchises.

“We wanted to do something for ourselves and we liked the idea of a service industry,” Loudenback said. She has degree in social sciences and had worked with seniors in assisted living communities and low-income housing. Her husband was in insurance.

Buying a franchise and having friends who could give advice about the business made the whole process of going into business easier, Loudenback said.

“We didn’t catch on to the larger significance of that until we went to our first national conference,” she said. Then they realized that other franchisees were vying for the opportunity to ask their friends questions.

“Once we had been in business for 5 years, we felt we could do more,” she said. So, after doing research for another year, they expanded their territory to include Cowlitz, Pacific and Wahkiakum Counties.

Loudenback has been interviewing and hiring caregivers at the Ilwaco office.

“A year ago, I could have hired anyone I wanted,” she said. A new Washington State regulation (Initiative 1163) requires new hires to be certified as a home care aide, or a nursing professional.

People who aren’t certified, but worked as a caregiver during 2011 can be grandfathered in under the older requirements.

“Already, I’m interviewing caregivers and half of them aren’t certified … so we’ve decided not to worry about it now,” she said.

Loudenback said they plan to bring training to their employees, either via video conferencing or through Grays Harbor College.

Initiative 1163 goes into full effect July 1, 2012. At that point, new home care aids will be required to have have federal and state background checks, 75 hours of basic training (up from 28 hours) within 120 days of hire, and to be a certified home care aide within 150 days.

The continuing education requirements for home care aides will also increase from 10 hours per year to 12 hours per year, and the state-approved training must be taught by a registered nurse or another approved person.

Loudenback said her only “bah-humbug” with the new initiative is that caring for a family member does not count as having experience under Initiative 1163. However, she’s not worried about finding enough qualified caregivers, and plans to begin marketing the agency’s services once she’s finished doing orientation with their new caregivers.

“We’ll market to the hospital, rehab facilities and the doctors’ offices,” she said.

“I think in the first year, we could have 10 to 15 clients. I think that would be great,” she said. “I think that’s very doable.”

Loudenback said that the Vancouver office sees a spike in new clients after the holiday or in the summer when families get together and can see how a loved one might be struggling.

“Most people want to stay home, to age in place,” she said, which often requires some accommodation. Agencies like Visiting Angels can help to make that easier.

One client could have two to three regular caregivers, she said. “I think for the most part [clients] enjoy the variety.”

While this caregiver might be a better cook, that one may be better at providing personal care; by rotating caregivers a bit, the client has the benefit of their various skills and company. It also helps prevent personalities from chaffing under too much familiarity.

“I think we do a really good job of communicating effectively with our clients and our patients,” Loudenback said. “I think we provide the best care.”

For more information, contact the Ilwaco office at 360-553-4428 or the Vancouver office at 360-892-4442.

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