It Was Just the Other Day
It had taken weeks and months of work to get to this point. The decision was agonizing and the self doubt grew by the day. Nevertheless without any fanfare, Elder Options was a new business May 1, 1988. To put it all in perspective, remember President Reagan was running the country. It was the year of the Summer Olympics in Moscow that the U.S. and 65 other countries boycotted to protest the Soviet War in Pakistan. Pink Floyd was at the top of the charts followed by Barbra Streisand and John Lennon who in December of the same year was shot and killed. It was also the month I was accepted into graduate school for the Fall 1980 semester at CSU Sacramento.
After working for several years in the public sector, attaining a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and living in the community for eight years, I felt I was ready. Working for a year in a then newly recognized Care Management program with the Area Agency on Aging, I knew the concept and the services worked. The county program was not funded after the first year which helped me decide my way forward. I had no idea of the challenges in front of me, a person who had never developed or implemented a new business. As they say, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
I found when you are the only employee that everything falls on you. I was the care manager, the outreach person, community participant and speaker, paid the bills, made the copies, wrote reports and began to education the community at large about what care management was. The terminology was even confusing. Medical personnel tended to call it case management whereas social workers used the term “care” versus “case”. A good share of my time was explaining how I, the only care manager in the community could actually make a difference. It was slow. It was hard. It could be very discouraging but…it worked. Gradually I gained clients and their families. I found I needed to be in three places at once so after some months of doing it all and some good advice, I hired a part time administrative person who took over much of the office work. The “office” was an extra bedroom in my home. I even remember baking an apple pie for dinner during one of my slow days. I’d run out to the kitchen to check on the pie in between telephone calls in the “office”. We had no copier so every Friday; I’d run errands and make copies at a local stationary store. Eventually we leased a small copier that we put in the bedroom closet after taking the doors off. It was during this first year or two that I began writing a weekly column for the Mt. Democrat and later for the NASW News, a statewide newsletter for Social Workers. Both columns with deadlines ran for a number of years and dealt with issues around older adults. (They were called “seniors”, “elderly” or “senior citizens” in those days.)
In meeting with my CPA for taxes once a year, I knew to expect a frank talk about documentation needed for taxes. He called it his “artistic impression” for several years until I finally “got it”. He also stressed the very important fact that a business needs to make money and show a profit. How hard that was for a Social Worker who had never had to charge for her services and wanted to just “help everyone”. Thank goodness for the council of other professionals during those years to help a struggling small business owner understand the ins and outs of running a business. Any funds left over after bills, taxes, etc. were put back into the business to help grow the business.
With encouragement from colleagues and agencies in the community, I decided several years into the business to add a home care component, hire another care manager and move into a “real office” in Placerville. We quickly outgrew the small office we’d rented and added an “annex” across the parking lot. During those years we learned how having employees complicated and added hours to the already long day. Those were the years of typing W-2 forms for employee taxes. We had such a bad time one year that we had to search office stores for blank forms and spend one Sunday afternoon reprinting them correctly. Funny how those memories come forward.
The best memories however were and are of the clients. They lived on dirt roads on areas of the county that I didn’t know anything about. I’d call from the pay phone in Georgetown (no cell phones then) to get specific directions when I got turned around finding a client. Throughout the years, it’s been the clients that have made it all worthwhile. In 30 years we’ve helped clients stay at home longer, go to scheduled doctors’ appointments, made sure prescriptions were re-filled and delivered, facilitated family meetings to come to a unified agreement and worked with long term insurance companies to access client benefits on policies they’d paid on for years. While making a home visit, I’ve washed up a sink full of dirty dishes for a client who was a falls risk, made scrambled eggs and toast for an underweight client, called a family member while at the home visit who hadn’t talked to his parent in years, heard family stories, taken a cupcake to celebrate a birthday for a client who had no one and worked hard on a plan of care to assure the client was safe, secure and where he/she wanted to be.
Being part of a community serving older adults and their families has given me the opportunity to understand the needs and wishes of the residents. Throughout the years we have ventured forth with new ideas. It was a dicey proposition sometimes. Some of the ideas were great and still in place. Others didn’t work out and were eliminated. Our clients have gotten older in the past 30 years and thus, the needs, wishes and expectations have changed as well. In 1988 the average age of our clients was latter 70’s – early 80’s. A typical client in 2018 is latter 80’s – mid 90’s, and reminding everyone that overall health of older adults has improved in the last 30 years.
What else has changed? Thinking back I remember having a list of licensed Board & Care homes in the county with only one large facility. It was before the surge of building large Assisted Living Facilities. There was also a feeling that an elderly person going into a nursing home was just a matter of time for everyone. We’d all end up there sooner than later. Fortunately this trend has changed with the great majority of older adults opting to remain at home and “aging in place”, a term that has emerged in the last few years.
The company has evolved, changed and grown. After five years of making the 100 Fastest Growing Companies in the Sacramento Business Journal, I learned that businesses go up and down with the economy and the political climate. Finding and retaining other professionals i.e., CFO, business attorney continues to help the company throughout the years. The addition of this professional team has been essential in the continued growth of the company.
As we go forward in our 30th year, it’s time to say Thank You to the community for considering, reviewing and then accepting the expertise Elder Options started with, evolved and grew into. The company continues to thrive with multiple services , multiple locations and almost 70 employees. I would have never dreamed of it that day in May of 1988. It wouldn’t have happened without all of you. I’m very grateful.
Carol Heape, our Founder and CEO (pictured above), pioneered the development of care services in the region and continues that work today in recognition of the changing values of older adults and the disabled. Elder Options supports older adults, the disabled, and their families by creating services that enable your loved one to experience a life lived fully every day.