It's New to Us by Jean Stratton

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HELPING HANDS: "It's a simple service, but so necessary, and so meaningful. We help to ensure that an older person can stay in his or her home, thus making a difference in their lives for the better." Stephanie Howe, RN, is owner of Comfort Keepers, which provides non-medical, in-home care for clients needing help to remain at home.

Quality, Non-Medical, In-Home Care Is Available from Comfort Keepers

Helping people is very important to Stephanie Howe. A registered nurse for 11 years, she recently opened Comfort Keepers, an organization whose goal is to help older people remain in their home with as much independence as possible.

One's home is always important, of course, as is emphasized in Comfort Keepers' mission statement: "It is a reflection of who you are. It is where your memories are. It is where you feel most comfortable. Every room, every piece of furniture, every photograph, every keepsake represents you and your life."

And as one grows older, home and hearth become even more important as a setting for memories of a life-time. Ms. Howe has a special understanding of this and the needs of people to stay in their own surroundings.

Born in Princeton Hospital, she grew up in Lawrenceville and Hightstown, and has been employed as a nurse at the University Medical Center at Princeton for eight years.

"I am first and foremost a nurse, who is in business," explains Ms. Howe. "Comfort Keepers fits in with my need to help people, which is part of who I am. Several things brought me here. My nursing background, for one, and I grew up with a parent who had chronic progressive multiple sclerosis, and who had to go into a nursing home at the age of 41. If this kind of service had been available, he could have stayed home longer.

"Later," she continues, "when my mother-in-law developed breast cancer, she lived with us, and could be cared for at home. Recently, I have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and I realize that this service is something I could need one day. At some time, we all need help."

Personal Concerns

Such openness about her own life and health concerns is often beneficial in her interaction with clients, she notes. "I think it helps me to identify with people, and they realize I have had personal medical concerns that can make me more aware of their needs.

"Also," she adds, "in nursing, you learn to interact with people. I've heard it described as 'empathetic' listening. I try very hard to see the whole person when talking with a client."

Comfort Keepers is part of a franchise organization with 400 locations in the U.S., Canada, and England. It was started in 1998 in Dayton, Ohio by an R.N., reports Ms. Howe, whose office is in Hamilton Square. Currently, there are 13 independently-owned Comfort Keepers in New Jersey.

A full range of services includes everything from conversation and companionship, light housekeeping, meal preparation, and transportation for shopping, doctor's appointments, etc. to organizational projects, such as sorting mail, photos, and memorabilia.

Caregivers can also help with bathing, medication reminders, feeding and other personal care needs, if necessary.

"For the majority of people, our service consists of mentoring and companionship," says Ms. Howe. "We do a lot of light housekeeping, dishes, vacuuming, laundry, ironing, etc. Basically, as caregivers, we are here to help the clients with whatever they need in order for them to remain at home safely for as long as possible."

Comfort Keepers serves Mercer County, with several clients in Princeton, reports Ms. Howe. Clients typically live alone, although some are with a spouse. The average age is 80, although many are 90 or older.

Ms. Howe observes that sometimes clients are initially reluctant, even resistant, to avail themselves of Comfort Keepers, fearing it is a loss of their independence.

Best Caregivers

"In fact, it is just the opposite," she points out. "We are helping to prolong their independence."

Ms. Howe employs 23 caregivers, one of whom is male, ranging in age from 33 to 71. They are certified home health aides or people with previous related experience.

"I truly believe we have the best caregivers in the area," says Ms. Howe. "I have hand-selected every one. I am very selective and particular about whom I employ. They are all bonded and insured, and I also do motor vehicle, criminal background, and fraud checks. The people I employ are educated, and they really look at this as a ministry."

Indeed, it takes a certain kind of person to do this work, she adds, one who is patient and caring, with understanding, sensitivity, and a kind regard for older people.

Since each case is very individualized, Ms. Howe makes a point to meet the client at his or her home, and formulates a plan that incorporates the needs, wishes, and preferred schedule of the person. "I also try to make sure I get a good match with the client and caregiver. It often becomes a relationship of friends, and has such meaning in their lives."

Limited Time

Comfort Keepers offers 24-hour service, including live-in, if requested. More typically, three to four hours, two or three times a week, is the norm. It can also be a temporary situation, such as in the case of someone recovering from an illness or surgery, who needs help for a limited time.

Whatever the need, Ms. Howe points out that clients should be careful and thorough before hiring a caregiver. "They should definitely look for someone who has done background checks on their employees and who is bonded and insured. This is very important. Also, it should be someone who is willing to work with the client's wishes, whether it is playing Scrabble or cards, eating together, or just talking. The social stimulation is so important. The client really comes to look forward to the caregiver's visits.

"As I look ahead, there is so much promise, so many people we can help," says Ms. Howe. "I very much enjoy meeting the clients, getting to know them, and knowing that I can help make their life better. One client's husband recently said to me: 'You have made such a difference in her life.' Nothing makes me happier than to hear that."

Comfort Keepers offers affordable prices by the hour, and special payment plans are available to accommodate a client's budget. For more information, call 609-890-2888. Website:



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