Aging is an inevitable process - and a challenge that grows along with the large population of baby boomers now reaching senior status. But Ken Cope, president of Home Instead Senior Care's Memphis and North Mississippi franchises, embraces the situation optimistically.
"Some people would be fearful thinking (the boomers' aging) is going to be overwhelming," he said. "I don't think it will. The trend is already moving toward controlling healthcare costs, particularly for seniors, with Medicare and other insurance companies following suit. They're examining different payment models that encourage more care at home, which is less costly than care in other places."
As the former System Executive Director of Sales and Marketing for Baptist Home Care Inc., a division of Baptist Memorial Healthcare Corporation, Cope oversaw sales, market and admissions for Baptist's home health and hospice agencies. He accepted the job, in fact, after recognizing the care that Baptist had provided for his mother-in-law when she was very ill, helping keep his wife's promise never to let her mother go to a nursing home.
After five years with Baptist, Cope chose to make a difference in a smaller company, where he could make decisions without going through numerous channels.
(The "smaller company" descriptor applies only to Cope's local jurisdiction, however. Home Instead is the nation's largest non-medical home care company, consisting of more than 800 offices in the U.S. and, according to Forbes, is the largest senior care organization in the world.)
Cope points out that Medicare is looking at various types of quality measurements, including re-hospitalizations, and considering rewarding hospitals that help manage care that keeps patients at home.
He notes that home care technology is also evolving rapidly. Recently it's become possible for patients' vital statistics to be monitored from home by physicians in their offices; now video aspects are being added. And things like an Alexa device that reminds seniors to take their medications and a home medication dispensary that alerts a nurse to visit when meds aren't being taken out are on the horizon, maybe three to five years away, he speculates.
The most misunderstood aspect of senior healthcare is the popular assumption that everything will be taken care of when the person is older, said Cope, "so they don't plan accordingly -- financially and physically. It's a tragedy. People wait till care is needed and then they start searching."
Information concerning care for an aging loved one is increasingly accessible: Medicare's website compares quality outcomes for nursing homes or rehab centers, and for home health agencies; geriatric consultants offer professional guidance for a fee; but Cope, who serves as an informational speaker on critical aging issues and how they affect families, employees and employers, is happy to share his knowledge of the field. "I can guide people to resources that don't cost anything, in order to find the solutions -- or the professional advice -- they might need."
He points to the Daughters in the Workplace website developed by Home Instead for professionals who are juggling their careers along with helping to take care of a loved one. "It gives tips and ideas on how to talk to your employer. Most employers are used to people needing to take off for child care, but ... it's becoming more common that people need to take off to take care of a senior loved one."
Home Instead's 2017 survey of 1,001 working women ages 45 to 60 who are caregivers for at least one parent or in-law found that 91 percent have had to take some action to accommodate being both a caregiver and an employee; 83 percent say caregiving has strained their ability to manage their work/life balance.
"It's very common for us to receive multiple calls in a given week," Cope said. "People just don't understand what's available, so they'll call us for help -- and we're happy to help."
Cope reports "substantial growth" over the last four years, with an average of about 10 percent more clients being served each year, as the senior population continues to grow the need for the company's home care services. Although Home Instead's services are not currently reimbursed by Medicare, that potential exists: "People at our corporate office are lobbying for more government payors for the type of services that we provide," he said. "There is some talk from Medicare that they're looking into that."
His greatest challenge is finding and retaining good quality workers to employ to maintain a staff of 200-250 caregivers. "It's not an easy job, and our industry is known for a fairly high turnover. We find that the best people for the job are those who consider it a calling or a passion. It takes a strong heart to go from taking care of a senior for five years and watching them pass away, and realizing a few days later that a new client needs you."
He acknowledges that his greatest professional accomplishment isn't measured just by revenue growth, but the realization that thousands of families have been helped by the teams that he has supported. "I can go home and know that there are more and more people whose lives truly have been impacted, who are able to stay at home longer, who don't have to go to a nursing home, because of what my team has done," he said.
His goals as the leader at Home Instead are to make sure his employees are both happy and encouraged -- and thus more productive. His door is always open, and he stresses the importance of caring for them as people, and showing it in small ways, like a personal note sent to their home.
An avid turkey hunter, Cope is married and has three grown daughters. "My proudest accomplishment has been to raise them to be Christian ladies; I think we've done that."