Company helps elders live at home
LINCOLN — Bern Terry wants his clients to think of him like the family nephew: friendly, available and ready to step in when an elder needs a little extra help around the home.
That concept of flexible, personal home care is at the heart of a new for-profit senior care business expanding this month to Addison County. As the company’s name implies, Extended Family steps in to help senior citizens remain independent and in their homes — much like a family member or neighbor might pitch in as someone ages.
Think help around the home, or trips to the grocery store. Think tips for making a home safer and more comfortable for aging. Think medical, social, financial and legal assistance. Extended Family does it all, Terry said.
Terry, a Lincoln resident and the executive vice president of the company, thinks there’s a small but steady demand for these comprehensive services in Vermont.
“There’s no question this is an aging state,” Terry said. “What we can do to make this county more aging friendly for everybody … is something that I think will be an asset to the county as the state ages.”
Extended Family has its roots in New Hampshire, where a nurse started the business five years ago to fill a niche she saw in the senior care industry. While working with nursing home patients, founder Barbara Trimble realized most residents neither wanted nor needed to live in nursing homes — but for whatever reason, they didn’t have the extra assistance they needed to stay in their own homes.
The company grew out of a desire to provide seniors with this extra help in a way that’s customized for each family. Extended Family focuses on planning and prevention — helping seniors fight memory loss, avoid medical problems, and work on strength and balance and anticipate care needs for the future — while also providing social and home services.
“We try to take a slightly broader approach where we say, ‘What do you want? How do you want to live? What’s missing?’” Terry said.
Extended Family isn’t for everyone: The company doesn’t accept federal or state insurance programs, and most clients or their families pay for the services out of pocket. (Some clients with long-term care insurance have used those policies to pay for the care.)
But Terry pointed out not all Extended Family clients are wealthy. Many are on fixed incomes, but miss the cut-offs for Medicare. The company works with others to figure out how much a person can afford to spend, and what sort of services are a priority.
In New Hampshire, most clients pay between $800 and $1,200 a month for the Extended Family service. (Others pay as little as $100 a month for planning or guidance help.)
The price tag might seem steep, but Terry said it’s substantially less expensive than the fees someone faces for moving into a residential care facility or nursing home, which can sometimes cost $7,000 to $10,000 a month.
The service also comes with some perks: Extended Family staff are flexible, so clients don’t have to pay for a minimum number of hours per visit.
And Terry said that the program becomes cost effective for seniors because of the company’s comprehensive approach. The same person who swings by to drive a senior to a doctor’s appointment could also do the grocery shopping, help with personal care, and fix a squeaky door in one trip.
Terry was careful to say that Extended Family isn’t trying to edge out some of the other agencies in Addison County devoted to elderly care. In fact, the company is part of a loose network of elderly care providers in the county that meets regularly to talk about collaboration on issues related to aging in the area.
Neil Gruber, the administrator at the Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, agreed that Extended Family could fill a niche in the area. He thinks the company offers a service not unlike the case management services available to Medicaid patients, which help match patients up with the different healthcare options in their area.
“That’s a pretty valuable service,” Gruber said.
Most of Helen Porter’s patients — roughly 70 percent, according to Gruber — are eligible for Medicaid. But Extended Family could be an option for those with a few more financial resources.
Providing such personalized care requires a certain kind of staff member, Terry said. The company began making its first hires recently, and could hire as many as 30 to 50 mostly part-time employees in Addison County over the next six to nine months.
“We’re trying to find people who are a combination of a specialist and a generalist,” Terry said. “It’s very important to us, both for the client and the staff, that our staff enjoys what they do.”
The company has also looked at office spaces in Bristol and Middlebury, though it hasn’t chosen a final location yet. Terry said the company hopes to expand its coverage area to include all of Vermont within three years, and Extended Family hopes that the Middlebury-area office would be the base of operations for those services.
With offices in Portsmouth, N.H., Massachusetts and New Jersey, Extended Family has already worked with between 200 and 300 families. Terry said the company has earned the backing of several physicians as well as attorneys and community leaders.
“We try to figure out peoples’ personal preferences,” he said. “We try to be an extension of your family, and you get to decide what we do for you and how we do it.”
More information about Extended Family can be found online at www.extended-family.net. Reporter Kathryn Flagg is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lincoln resident and Extended Family Vice President Bern Terry traces his roots in the Middlebury area to his 1978 graduation from Middlebury College.
Terry, 54, has worked in elder care since 1991, when he joined a company called Lifeline Systems, a personal medical alert emergency response service for seniors and caregivers.
He joined Extended Family in 2006. It was while he was scouting locations for the company to expand in New England that he first began to hear about the need for the company’s services in Vermont.
Terry thinks Addison County is an attractive one in which to establish the Extended Family Vermont office because he’s confident the company will be able to draw on a diverse workforce with many different passions, job skills and life skills.
“Just the way we believe that it’s healthy for people to live in a multigenerational community, we think we will be attractive to a multigenerational workforce,” Terry said.