When Glenda McDonald retired to Port Richey in 2018, she was surprised by how much she missed the community of nursing friends she’d always had through work.
After a four-decade career in Connecticut, Florida and Illinois, she found herself yearning for likeminded connections.
On Craigslist, she saw an ad for an organization that hires retirees to be in-home caretakers for other seniors. She loved the idea — and within the week, she had accepted a part-time job.
It’s how she met Richard Miller, an 83-year-old who recently left his long-term care facility in favor of home care.
“As a retiree myself it’s wonderful to meet people close to my age or a little bit older, because we just all have so much to share,” said McDonald, 65. “And it’s nice to know that if I help Richard out now, who knows, Richard may become a caregiver and help me out later.”
The vast majority of people living in the United States prefer home care, especially in the wake of a pandemic that has been particularly deadly for residents of long-term care facilities.
According to a recent study from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 88 percent of Americans want to stay at home or the home of a loved one should they need living assistance as they age.
Seniors Helping Seniors Pinellas County, a for-profit organization that exclusively employs people 45 and older as home caregivers around the Tampa Bay area, has seen a spike in demand as people have migrated out of long-term care in the last year, or struggled to find consistent home health aides elsewhere amid staff shortages. Andy Malivuk, administrator of the Pinellas office of the national franchise company, said that for the first time in their history, their local branch has a waitlist.
He said he’s seen about a 35 percent increase in demand compared to the level at the beginning of 2020, and although he’s actively trying to hiring more seniors as caretakers, “it still isn’t keeping pace with the growing demand.”
“I want everyone in the Tampa Bay area that is over the age of 45 to know that there’s this opportunity to do meaningful part-time work — they get to help someone stay in their home as long as possible safely and do so with someone who understands the aging process,” said Malivuk, who noted that the purpose of the organization is to “highlight the vitality of the aging community.”
Miller retired after a successful career in air traffic control — with an entrepreneurial spirit, he frequently requested transfers to areas that piqued his interest, working in Miami, Oklahoma City, Indianapolis and Puerto Rico before finally settling in Tampa.
He lived on his own until he was hospitalized with sepsis for 30 days last year. After a long stay in rehab, he was sent to live in an assisted living facility that could help with his daily functioning in October 2020.
But Miller is independent, and often struggled with the strict regimen of the facility. He hated being locked down at night, unable to stick his head outside from 8 at night to 8 in the morning, and said meal schedules changed unpredictably.
After his son enrolled him in care through Seniors Helping Seniors, Miller was able to return to his condo in June.
Caretakers like McDonald come by for a few hours each day — they make his bed, fold laundry, clean the kitchen. But after that, they and Miller just talk.
“I’m pretty well self-sufficient, so the main thing is trying to keep them busy,” Miller said. “And I normally say, ‘Well, you kept me company for two hours. As far as I’m concerned, that’s enough.’”
Social bonds with individuals in the same or subsequent generation can be instrumental in combatting loneliness that can come later in life — something over 40 percent of adults 60 and older experience — for both the caretaker and the recipient.
“It’s just wonderful as a caregiver to get to meet such an interesting person with such an interesting background that still has so much to offer to all of us,” McDonald said. “And it’s wonderful for me as a retiree to get out of the house. Our mornings fly by really quickly, because we have so much fun together.”
The model of employing people in their 50s, 60s or 70s to care for people in similar stages of life may be effective in combating retention problems that have plagued home health agencies in recent years.
The home caregiver turnover rate nationally was 65 percent in 2020, according to a study from Home Care Pulse released in May. In contrast, the local Pinellas office of Seniors Helping Seniors had a turnover rate of a little less than 10 percent, according to internal reporting collected by Malivuk. He said other offices across the country tend to “experience similar levels” annually.
McDonald said she enjoys the program because she’s able to set her own schedule — working about 8 hours a week, she can still enjoy the freedom of semi-retirement while giving back.
“And I get to have a community again,” she said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated that Glenda McDonald lived in Connecticut for the entirety of her career.