Affinity CEO Chris Zayid in conversation with Connect Our Elders Founder, Sarah Barker on the podcast show, connecting the community with chris.

Empowering Elders: A Deep Dive with Sarah Barker, Founder of ‘Connect Our Elders’

In this episode of “Connecting the Community with Chris,” host, Chris Zayid, speaks with Sarah Barker.

Sarah has a reputation for being a strong advocate for seniors and is the innovative mind behind ‘Connect Our Elders’.

Her initiative is dedicated to advising and supporting those who need care at home, predominantly focusing on individuals aged 65 and above, although her services reach those who are younger and need assistance as well.

Buckle up for a candid conversation about elder care, community, and connection.

Let’s dive in! Watch the full podcast or read the transcript below.

Chris: Hello! We have a special guest today. Welcome to Connecting the Community with Chris podcast show, and we have Sarah Barker, a special guest, who is a well-known senior advocate, who founded ‘Connect Our Elders,’ that specializes in advisoring the process for anybody who actually needs care in their home, you know, anyone who is 65 and up, and it sounds like that even anybody who actually is younger too, who needs help.

So, welcome to our show!

Sarah: Chris, thank you so much, I feel very honored to be your guest today. I’ve been following you for a long time and I know that we’ve had a couple meetings and conversations, so I am super excited to be your guest today. Thank you.

Chris: Well, I’m honored too as well, you know. You’re doing such great work and I know that you’re passionate and your purpose has always been there. So, that’s what we like to have on our show as well too, is people who could serve the purpose in our senior community or just in the care in general.

So, what I like to know is how did you get involved in this industry. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Sarah: By accident. So, I was studying to be an investment banking representative. I was going to go to work for Mergers and Acquisitions in an Acquisitions firm, and this estate planning attorney I knew in San Diego through networking, a fellow veteran, sent me a job opening that he saw, because he knew the owner of the home care company, and he said, “Sarah, I really think that you should take a look at this.” Because what he knew about me that I hadn’t recognized in myself, I had gotten out of the military recently, like completely out at that time, and sort of a loss of identity, a loss of this higher purpose, and so, while I had great jobs and was performing, I didn’t feel fulfilled. And what he recognized in the Elder Care space was that I could feel fulfilled as if I was serving a larger purpose and still make a good living to be able to survive in San Diego.

Chris: So, obviously you know, your heart was there and also true, you had the experience, you had leaders around you in your environment – obviously we can’t lead unless we have individuals around us and surround us. But you do have experience in actually advising the elderly community. Because we want to dig deep into your background, so, like, how did you even come up with the name Connect Our Elders and why the elderly community?

Sarah: So, when I first got into Elder Care it did happen by chance, right, that first introduction. But, I immediately fell in love with it and it’s because, typically, in our society compared to other countries, we do not do as good of a job of keeping our elders forefront of mind and not forgetting them, right? They just kind of get forgotten. I’m not saying everyone, right, but as a general rule of thumb, we’ve got a lot of elders that are just forgotten in our society, and I feel strongly that we have a responsibility to care for those that laid the foundation for the lives that we live today. And you mentioned having good people around us. I did enter the space with a wonderful network of people that I met through an organization called ProVisors, that as soon as I got into elder care, they just really lifted me up. A lot of Legal, Financial Advisors were instrumental to my success and I’m super grateful for them.

So, I just embarked on this journey and trained people to think – all I need you to know is that Sarah serves seniors, and we have a responsibility to work together to serve the seniors in our country. And so, you asked about Connect Our Elders – every time I have an idea, a vision in my mind, I will go to GoDaddy, and I will buy the URL.

Now, I believe in divine timing, and we may have an idea, and nothing comes off it for a long time. We don’t know, we might meet somebody and have a feeling that there’s going to be collaboration, but it’s just not right now, but that doesn’t mean two years from now it might not be, right? You and I are now doing this right now, we’ve talked and haven’t really done anything before, so, divine timing.

I had this idea, Connect Our Elders, I bought the URL, and it sat in my GoDaddy account for about three years. And, at the time I was being offered partnership and sales management role in the home care company I worked for, and it was a phenomenal opportunity. I love the owner, one of my dearest friends, and I really thought and reflected on it, and I decided, I think now is the time. Like, if I’m going to work as hard as I do, I’m going to build my own legacy. And so, that’s when I took the leap of faith and decided to move forward with Connect Our Elders.

And I will even say this to anybody that is thinking about doing their own thing – don’t feel like you have to have it all figured out in the beginning, because Connect Our Elders has evolved a lot over the last three years.

So, the key, you have to get started.

Chris: I really, truly think, that the entrepreneurial spirit, and I surround myself with a lot of people who own businesses, and from friends to family and individuals that I meet every single day in networking events, and sometimes businesses just don’t evolve into this, this is turning into like a business or networking video right now – “how to be an entrepreneur,” but it really helps everybody involved, is that, sometimes you just are trying to understand the process, to figure things out and it might be one, two, three, four years down the line. Business owners don’t flourish until sometimes five-ten years, until they figure things out and they go through enough obstacles, you know. And so, I’m happy that you found your space, and I’m happy that you wake up every day and you want to serve, and that’s like super important every day. Because, everything has obstacles, but if you want to serve, and I think in the Senior Care Community you can’t give up on the people, you know, because our families are stressed, they have anxiety, they are not sure what to do, their parents will live in the hospital and they have to figure out how to, you know, serve them in their last days of their lives.

And so, we have to be responsible of that decision, to help them, to advocate them, to make their life a little bit easier. So, you know, not many people out there like that, and so yeah, the responsibility that you took on, I commend you.

Sarah: Well, and I commend you, because like I said in the beginning, I follow your stuff and you equally have just as high of a passion. I can tell in the way that you talk about the work that you do. So, kudos to you Chris for being passionate and doing the good work.

Chris: Thank you, and you know what, and so, this leads into our next question that I’m sure a lot of people have, is that, actually they might not know, you have a military background. And so, you do post on things that you actually are proud of and things you’ve accomplished too. So, tell us about your military background?

Sarah: So, I joined, I went to Military College, first person in my family to go to college. I come from a small town, humble beginnings, dad’s a logger, mom still cleans houses, very grateful for how I grew up, now, you know, when we’re younger we don’t quite recognize it, but very grateful for the work ethic and the big heartedness, right, the authenticity that I learned from my parents.

So, I got lucky, and I crossed paths with the Junior ROTC instructor who happened to just say where are you going to college? Now, I didn’t even realize that it was an option for me, and so, of course, we started talking. He suggested military colleges, so I went to North Georgia Military. I didn’t finish out my degree there, I did my last semester online – that’s a long story. 9/11 happened, lots of activations, life decisions. But my second semester, like many Cadets, we would take it off and go join the Army National Guard, Air Guard, Marine Corps Reserve, what have you. Well, I did that, went back to school for the summer semester, was in the next semester, and then 9/11 hit, and I remember, it was like a mass exodus from the college campus. And so, I did get activated and I went to Fort Benning, then I went to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where we were doing detainee operations back right after 9/11.

So, certainly a very interesting experience. Went back to school, got activated again. Got activated for Hurricane Katrina, a bunch of different stuff, and so, fast forward, I end up doing some work full time for the Georgia Army National Guard teaching, career counseling, working in the joint operations center, and then in 2008 I decided to get out. I really, really missed it, I felt like I didn’t know who I was anymore. So, when you hear about veterans having this sort of identity crisis, it feels real, and even though everything was good in life I felt something was missing until I found elder care.

And so, I got out and then I re-entered in 2016 because I missed it, and lo and behold, shortly after that, I was fortunate to go back to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It was really fascinating to have been there in the beginning and then to go back so many years later. And so, I was there 2018 to 2019, came right home, went right back to work to the home care company that I was with, and I’m still serving today in the Tennessee Army National Guard now.

And people ask me all the time, why do you keep doing it, because look, when you get older you start to become wiser and have these revelations, right? The military is a love-hate relationship. Of course, it’s not always fun, but you realize when you get older that there’s nothing in life that you love all the time, except for maybe your kids, okay.

Chris: Your interests and hobbies get smaller, and your circle gets smaller.

Sarah: Right. And so, you have to remind yourself of the bigger purpose, why you’re doing it, the things that you love about it. I mean, I talked to home care company owners all the time. Do you think every day for them is joyful and … no! It can be a crime.

Chris:  We ask for a problem to solve, you know, so that’s what we’re asking for. The phone call is not always about roses, you are solving a problem, and the testimonials are great because you help them. But yeah, I agree with it. You’re asking for an obstacle to resolve.

Sarah: Yes, and you know, it can be. So, the correlation between Military, Elder Care, finding Elder Care,  finding my place in the civilian world, really felt good, and it’s good, it’s feeling better and better, right, as the journey continues. I continue to serve, people ask why, because, being in the reserve component, you work all week, you do your military duty, you work another week. So, every month, you’ve got two weeks with no break. I serve, because I am so grateful for what the military has done for me, coming from where I come from, humble beginnings, it was my launching pad. It is what created the initial opportunities for me to go on and do something, right, and I’m beyond grateful.

I just extended for another year. I’m not sure when I will get out, because I love the soldiers too, I love mentoring them. And I’ll tell you this – any home care company that listens to this, I’ve been preaching it for years, but I literally have started executing on it with my home care clients I have. Not the Elder Care, but the agencies. Go to the employer support of the Guard and Reserve and do the statement of support, so that way you can be a veteran friendly employer. I have tested it out in my National Guard unit. Took an agency’s job flyers and I said, here’s this job opportunity guys, we have elders in our community that are not getting care as timely as they should be, because we have a lack of people to fulfill the mission, and over 50 percent of those soldiers took the job flyer, and then when I had drill, the next time, I had soldiers coming up to me and asking me for more flyers, because they went home and talked to their friends and their significant others. Your company should really start talking to these Reserve service members.

Chris: Yeah. Wow. I want to do it; I haven’t done that. You got to show me how to do that.

Sarah: I absolutely will. It’s free and it takes five minutes.

Chris: Yeah, lots of veterans have come across our desk here, and many are, you know, amputees, and etc., the things that they’ve gone through and what they face and the obstacles especially, what it has to do with the activities of daily living. And so, really, it’s really nice to know.

One thing what I’m hearing, and it resonates with me, is that you’re a fighter. You don’t give up, you’re persistent, and like, these are things that you need someone to be able to be a senior care advocate, because family members, they need, some already gave up, like, they’ve been doing this, they’ve been the caretaker for a long time, so we have the burnout, so when they come to us, we need to be able to ride this through, all the way through, and tell them that, “Hey, listen, we’re not going to give up on you, we’re going to try to do everything we can, make things better for you and help you and get that relief and get that resource to be able to guide you.” And so, a lot of Home Care owners I’ve seen too and that I’ve talked to, you know, is that they’re willing to be good, but to be great, and then there’s another step to be top-notch, and in order to be top-notch and be great and you know, Good to Great to Top Notch, you can’t give up, and you have to be able to, and your family members know that you’re willing to do that or they’re just going to go find and go down that rabbit hole and go somewhere else.

Sarah: Or they’ll just continue to suffer unnecessarily. Now let’s be honest with our audience, some of the situations, because there’s not the financial wherewithal, you know, and maybe they are not a veteran that qualifies for Aid in attendance, it can be difficult, and we can try to leverage the community resources. There are those situations that feel nearly impossible to get a solution in place, but I think, so long as we continue to put the effort into it and let the family know that we care and we are going to continue to try to come up with a creative resource, at least then they know they’re not alone and they can continue to feel like, okay, maybe there’s some hope, somebody, you said fighter spirit, somebody is fighting for me, you know. But those situations are difficult and sad.

Chris: Yeah, and so people need to know, is that there’s sometimes, there is a point where we can’t do anything, you know, and depending on if they have a resource. So, a lot of home care companies always say is that we are capped out on all the things that we can do, we have to let our family members know. But transparency, words of affirmation, and follow-up, all have to happen for them to walk away and say, “Hey listen! This provider, this advisor, did everything they can for me.” And when they don’t feel that, when they walk away, then that means, all you have to do, what I’ve learned over here is, find more resources, find more people that do it, and if it’s not you, find other people that do it better. So, that way you can say, okay, you know what, all right, I have something, I have a trick, you know, today’s a trick I’m gonna pull out of my hat, I have another person, give them a call, and see if you can do it. You don’t always have to be the expert. And everyone tries to be the expert, that’s not really good.

If you’re not a veteran expert, then find someone that is. If you’re not serving the veteran population, you’re not on the list in your state or anything, at least refer them to somebody that you know are going to take care of them.

Sarah: So, you know, when I find somebody reaches the level of expert, it’s not because they know everything themselves, right? They may be at the top of their game in a certain area, which is great, but we become experts when we are willing to collaborate with other people, to admit when we don’t know something as well as somebody else, and we’re willing to bring them in, right, when we’re willing to collaborate not only with other resources on the continuum, but when we’re even willing to collaborate with our competitors, when the time comes, you know, if you do not have the caregivers to service the need, please, please, find some of your competitors that you trust, so that way you don’t leave that family just hanging.

Chris: Yeah. Okay, you have 80 caregivers on your team, the other home care company has 80. Now we have 160 resources, now, double that. And so, your competitors should be your best friends. The point is really, and this is our mission in our office, it’s not about the care hours, the billable hours and the money and the rate and all that, it’s about the presence.

Sarah: Chris, do you agree – if you do the right thing, the money comes?

Chris: I say it’s a reward. It’s only a reward. It’s not anything to be, you know, to infatuate on, because we know that material things are not that make you happy. There may be for some people a necessity, but it’s only the reward of the hard work, that’s all it was, and so, if you look back at how many years it takes even to get there, you know, all those things are just … actually, not enough people pat themselves on the back. They should actually, humbly say that this was the reward of the time that I put in, and that’s what you receive. I always say, everyone has that opportunity in America, everyone has that opportunity but no one’s different than the entrepreneur or the person who doesn’t have it, they need to put in the time and the work, and you’re going to receive the reward.

Sarah: You have to do the work! I mean, I know this is kind of off the Connect Our Elders, but I have learned this through my Connect Our Elders journey. Nobody else can do the work for you. Like, you can have the supportive people that will elevate you and you’ll have those strategic partners that will be a part of your journey of getting to the next level, but you have to do the work.

Chris: Over the years I don’t feel good unless I just do it myself, but also, I’ve learned over the years too, is that I can’t do it on my own. I learned to delegate, of actually finding people that care as much as I do. But then, it’s good to know everything what goes on in your business from A to Z, so you could step in, and it doesn’t skip the beat, the heart’s still pumping all the time. But no matter what, finding your people that surround you, because even though we all have this passion, we love what we do and want to serve, but we’re only as good as the people that surround us too.

Sarah: I love that. You’re talking about when you get to the phase of when you hire and you delegate and when I’m saying you got to do the work, it’s like you do the work to get to that point, but then sometimes, you maybe can relate to this, as the owner, you have to do the self work to learn to let go, to be able to delegate. So, it’s always about doing the work to improve yourself, so you can improve your company.

Chris: Yeah. I mean, a leader always admits his mistakes.

So, I want to stress about the fact that when they enroll in your services, not everybody knows about the like the process of it, right? But you’ve come up with something which is really great. So that means, this is the devotion that you have in your organization. You want to put them through a process, and you have a six-step advisory process. So, what does that entail on your end?

Sarah: So, let me share, it’s not rocket science, right? It’s, when I was asked by a mentor, what is it that you do, and at first, I was like, I was having a hard time saying, I know what I do and I can do what I do, but how can I explain it – what I do. So, the six-step advisory process, and here’s the thing, a Home Care Agency, a care management firm, a placement agent, this process, so, look, if this resonates with you, please feel free to use it.

And so, it’s a six-step advisory process which is the free assessment or complimentary assessment – now, that’s either via phone, zoom, in person, whatever the person feels comfortable with, I will tell you that much of the work that I’ve done over the last three years has been done by the phone or via zoom, and it has worked exceptionally well, okay, we live in a new time now.

And the reason why is because Connect Our Elders is not the care provider, is not the care manager. We partner with vetted, preferred providers, and so, we do the full-on discovery process, which is the assessment. Then based on what we learn through that empathetic, emotionally present discovery process, and the particulars of the situation, demographics, location, diagnoses, all the needs, all of that right, then we can provide education to the family, you know, based on years of experience, okay, based on what you’re sharing with me, this is what I recommend to you. Now, it’s sometimes just caregiving services, sometimes it’s a combination of resources – caregiving, care management, and then some technology resource, right? But I have found that we need to be more emotionally connected during this discovery process, to be able to open the door to provide the education to the family. We cannot be Senior Care Advisors and just say, great, thanks for calling, how old is your mom, what’s her diagnoses, where does she live, and what sort of services do you think you want, and what do you think the schedule is.

But unfortunately, that’s what a lot of people do in our industry. Okay, we need to slow down, take a breather, connect with these families. The first thing that I will always say to the person I’m talking to, “I am so glad that you called me, I want you to know that you’re not alone. I am here to do everything I can to reduce your overwhelm, and your stress, and guide you through this process.” So, that’s an example of how the assessment starts happening and then providing the education on the Continuum of Care, what’s available to them, and then making that solid recommendation.

Connect Our Elders does not give a list of companies to a family, we are not selling people’s information to multiple providers. I am adamantly opposed to that model. I do not think that it does anything to help families. I think it just increases the overwhelming stress if their information is sold to multiple providers, because they start being inundated with phone calls. I also don’t think it’s good for the providers either, because they’re receiving families, prospective clients, that nobody’s done any due diligence, to see if they’re a good fit, if they can afford the services, if they’re even in the geographic area, sometimes, you know, I’ve heard these stories.

So, point being, educate the family in making professional solid recommendations, which means, unless the family asks me for two caregiving agencies based on geographic location, needs, and what I know to be the caregiver capacity, let’s say, or if there’s any special programs, I will recommend one caregiving agency to that family, but I will let them know, if this ends up not being the right fit, then circle back to me and we’ll find you another resource.

But taking that approach what it does is, it reduces it. Because, if you think about any of the other Professional Services that people hire, there’s a reason why you’re talking to them, because you want their professional recommendation, and they’re looking for a leader, these families, Chris, you know this, by the time they get to us, they’ve been stressed out, sometimes for years, they’re feeling hopeless.

So, they’re looking for somebody to guide them through this darkness you know, and I just find, the best way to do that is to take that professional recommendation approach. Now, it goes for recommendations for caregiving services, recommendations to care managers, senior moves companies. And so, you have to know who your vetted resources are, right? So, I don’t recommend anybody that I don’t know.

So, that’s the recommendations and then the fourth step is decision making. Now, you might think, well, you just said you make this professional recommendation. Yes, but we do a lot of coaching in this industry, typically with the adult children, right? It’s a traumatic time, we’ve got the role reversal, it’s psychologically trying, emotionally draining, mentally confusing, this whole process. So, the decision-making step in the process means that I’m there to be that sounding board, I’m there to be that coach, I’m there to answer questions the whole way, to encourage, to tell that adult daughter, adult son, you’re doing the best you know, how you’re doing great, you’re making the right decision, because sometimes they have to make the executive decision right. So, that’s how we work through the decision-making process.

Chris: And now, the level of care can be, you know, companionship to need standby assistance, hands-on or full-blown transfer care. As we know that’s part of our assessment, so, if they’re just completely independent on certain ADLs. Now, how do you determine what level of care they actually need? Are you diving into an ADL assessment, or if they’re local, are you going to see them?

Sarah: So, that’s a great question. So, because I have lots of years of experience, you can get the phase sheet from the discharge plan, through the conversation with the family, or talking to the referral source. But it is the care provider, so, when I make the professional recommendation to the family and we’ll go to the care giving agency, example, right, I’ve recognized that’s what they need. So, I will write based on my assessment process, discovery process, I’m gathering all this information, it’s a full intake is what it is. So, I will have an idea of the level of care, but when I make the professional recommendation and then I warmly hand it off to the caregiving agency, they now take over and they still have to go and do their in-person assessment and then, because the contractual, I don’t want to say contractual, we try not to say that, but the agreement between the family is with the actual person delivering the care, which are my providers.

Chris: You want them to dive into the care plan oversight details, but you’re still gonna intake it, process it, and say, okay, what part of their daily life or financial life or emotional life, whatever that got going on, you’re gonna give it and give them advice, but then it is for them to figure out. It’s kind of like, we’re driving down the road, we might be figuring out that pathway, you know.

Because I remember, when I first was going out to the hospitals, and I was like, I really was like digging deep, like how, what’s this navigational process that the family members are going through. I learned this at a young age you know, when I was nine years old, I was following my dad to nursing homes, foster homes, to assisted livings, and he was a podiatrist, so he’s a foot doctor, but he had practices, and he had patients that were homebound, and so, he’s like, I’m gonna serve the community outside of my office too, on two days of the week I’m gonna go to assisted living, nursing homes.

When I was nine, I went to work with my dad like all the time, for many years, even in college I’d love to go.

Sarah: Thank you for sharing this. This gives me so much insight into why you are the person you are. That’s amazing.

Chris: I was always wondering, curious about the pathway, that people have to pass, that everyone has to take, and I’m like, you know what, I’m gonna call it the pathway program. And this is the wellness integration of life, really is that we are going to go through different Pathways and that’s what we’re trying to do in our industry, is that we’re trying to figure out, where are they all on this road.

And so, I see where you’re coming from with your advisory process and everything. But I know that there’s a process of like how long it takes to the point of like, “Hey listen, my family members want to get to scheduling. I don’t need you to come back to me.” A lot of this is what happened after Covid. Like, don’t come to our house, send me the assessment over the phone, or I want to get to scheduling. I want to know if you can schedule a caregiver, you know, a lot of times like same day.

Sarah: Yeah, a lot of agencies are doing the virtual assessments, sending the DocuSign and it’s working. We have proven that it can work, because once we do get caregiver, well I’m not, remember, Connect Our Elders is not a caregiving agency. The caregiving agency providers I have, right, if that’s the case, they’re not doing the assessment in person, but they’re doing a virtual and then moving directly to Staffing and they send that caregiver out there, and then usually a client care coordinator or care manager will meet there, that’s when they’re getting eyes on and can make any adjustments to the care plan, right?

The way that it works between the caregiving agency and Connect Our Elders, is that I’m always involved, it is a collaborative communication and effort between Connect Our Elders and the caregiving agency.

Chris: You go too?

Sarah: No! No, I don’t go, but what happens is, the caregiving agency will report back to me on their findings, on their plan of care, but then with systematic updates. Like, I want updates on my clients monthly. Now, oftentimes I’m always in communication with the family, so I’ll know what’s going on too, but it’s sort of that quality assurance aspect.

Chris: You do that with clients, that another home care company in another state?

Sarah: Yes, I do. So, I have providers in other parts of the country and so it’s really just a report. Look, it’s as if, so, would you not update your referral sources, like your typical referral sources for your caregiving agency? You would update them on what’s going on with their clients. So, that’s what I expect from my providers, is to know if there’s any changes with my clients needs, are they improving, are they declining, have you recognized that there’s a need for another resource that maybe I’m not aware of yet, and then they circle back to me, because that’s professional. “Hey, we’ve recognized there’s a need for a care manager now. Do you have somebody in mind? Let’s discuss it, maybe we want to recommend the same person.”

Chris: Love that. I love that. You know what, family members feel that they want to stay with their provider, and I repeat this all the time in the office, if they don’t hear follow-up, if you don’t bombard them, that you show that you are caring, they’re gonna start thinking and have thoughts. Once you stop, then the thoughts are coming and they’re thinking that we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing.

Sarah: So, try to stay ahead.

Chris: It happens – one hour or one day, it could be detrimental.

Sarah: It can, and you got to think about the demographic that we’re serving. I’ve seen it over the years, everybody in the agency is thinking everything’s going fine with Mrs. Jones. Like Staffing knows, and the marketer knows, and everybody knows, yeah, there’s been some call-offs, but Mrs. Jones hasn’t said anything, so we’re thinking that it’s good to go, and then all of a sudden you get the phone call that they’re canceling Services. You’re like, but I thought everything was fine.

Well, because sometimes, they’re uncomfortable in communicating their dissatisfaction, for various reasons. I mean, whether it be fear that if they do that, they’re not going to get the same type of care, or they just don’t want to be a bother or based on how they were raised in their generation, you don’t complain, you know, just whatever the issues are.

Well, number one, it starts with a desire to make sure that you are providing the highest level of service possible. Number two, your next consideration is, don’t you want to retain your clients? Because you’re running a business, so make it systematic, where you’re following up. Because that way what happens is, when you ask people, we really care about how you’re feeling about the service you’re receiving, we want to make sure that you’re happy, you’re satisfied, you’re comfortable.

Give people the permission to give that feedback, because, if they mention to you that maybe they’re not so happy with that caregiver, you’re allowed the ability to replace the person and still maintain the client.

Don’t wait for potential issues to fester. That’s what I’m saying.

I would say also, make sure that you’re providing a safe space for your caregivers, to let you know if they’re not comfortable with a client, because some are too afraid to let you know, because they need that job. But if you create a culture where they’re not comfortable in a situation, but you tell them we will do everything we can to get you on a different client, why would you keep a care professional and a client that’s not meshing well together? It’s not healthy for either parties, but you got to create that safe space for both sides to be able to communicate with your agency.

Chris: Okay! Now the cost. Everybody’s waiting, everybody’s staying on our podcast. I know, if you stayed with us for 42 minutes then you got to hear the cost of your services. With associated costs and the process and your fees for this.

Sarah: There is no cost for Connect Our Elders. And before I made the decision for how I generate revenue; I spoke to a lot of my referral sources that I had over the years when I worked in-house at a caregiving agency. Because I knew that it could be perceived as a conflict of interest if providers are paying Connect Our Elders and not the families, and how do you know that you’re referring to the right choices? I knew that could be a concern. But I also knew and I’m glad that I followed my intuition, I also wanted to be able to provide this level of education, guidance, care navigation, complementary, because I had learned through many years of experience that if they felt as though they had to pay for an assessment fee, like many aging Life Care managers, they’ll talk to you, but if you want an assessment, you got to pay for it. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just different, because remember, I’m not a care manager. I will match them up with a care manager, but I’m sort of that first point of contact to provide that education, that sense of, it’s gonna be okay, and to walk them through and navigate them to the appropriate resources.

So, there is no charge for Connect Our Elders. But Connect Our Elders gets paid by the providers.

Chris: So, the provider will pay for you to navigate this, go through the whole process. So, say for example, those other home care companies that want you to contact their clients, on making sure that they are receiving the care that they want, and then getting that feedback and then bringing that back to the home care provider. Would you?

Sarah: So, the way that it works right now is that no caregiving agency is giving me their Client List and say, hey can you call them, make sure everything’s fine. So, I’m not doing like a survey service. I will get referrals from caregiving agencies, for example, hey Sarah, we have a client on service, and we really think that they could benefit from Care Management. Can you take it from here, talk to them, figure out the nuances of the situation, who you think will be the best care manager for the situation? And so, I get referrals from Care Managers, from home care companies, from placement agents, but I’m also referring back to them.

The way that I took the conflict of interest out of it or potential conflict because of how. I wanted to make sure consumers did not have to pay upfront for the education and the navigation, and I still feel strongly that I made the right decision. The way that there’s no conflict of interest is because every provider pays the same. It’s not one provider pays this amount; another provider pays that amount. It’s the same across the board. So, there is no financial incentive to refer to one over another.

Chris: The senior’s budget. We know our seniors are on a budget and some are on fixed income. So, do you take that into consideration when recommending your services?

Sarah:  Yes. I teach this. It’s kind of interesting. It came about with a referral I received many years ago. An ALS client, a younger wife, younger two daughters newly in college. Well, we know what the end result is going to be with that diagnosis. So, it was referred to me by a CPA and then we brought in a financial planner to put together a budget, and she asked me, can you put together some financial projections, and I was like, what do you mean? She’s like, what’s it gonna cost now, what’s it gonna cost in 60 days, and 90 days. So, I coined the term Cost of Care Projections. And that’s what I started using all the time. And so, I have always been asking questions like, do you have an estate plan of trust, when was it last reviewed, do you have a financial planner, when did you last talk to them?

I can’t make appropriate care recommendations unless I know what the financial picture is, because I don’t want to leave anybody in a situation where they could potentially outlive their money. Because if we do that, then are we really helping? No. But what we can do is, say, I understand you want to stay in your home based on your budget. Let’s make that happen. Here’s the reality though, and that’s the thing I’ll never sugarcoat it with families, because that would not be responsible, I would not be being ethical if I’m going to sugarcoat reality. So, if you want to stay at home based on your budget, here’s the care that you need right now, the number of hours, okay we can do that, but when needs increase, this is the associated cost and this is what it looks like in your budget.

So, what I’ll do is I’ll build in triggers there. Here’s the reality when your needs increase to this in the home then we need to start looking at some alternative funding solutions or we got to start looking at placement options. But I do cost of care projections that help through the entire process, from the moment that I become The Advocate, to the end.

Chris: That’s very thorough and it’s good to be transparent.

You are an advocate of this, but for veterans, now, regarding their care, what are you offering for resources for veterans?

Sarah: I have a relationship with the Vet Assist Program and that I’m sure you’re familiar with them. There’s other companies that are out there that do this. They’ll handle the application process for a veteran or a surviving spouse. If they meet the criteria and they determine that they could qualify, they’ll handle the application process. The cool thing with those programs, so with Aid in Attendance, which the VA does not do a good job about proactively letting people know about this, so, get it out there, tell all your friends, even if you’re not in our space. Talk about the Aid in Attendance program please.

Chris: I don’t know if they do, it’s a waiting list for some states too to even get on.

Sarah: So, it’s a catch-22 though with the Aid in Attendance. You have to show that you’re already paying for care. But in order to qualify for it, the financial criteria is pretty tough. How are you expecting that they’ve had the disposable income to pay for it? So, programs like the Vet Assist Program provide, I call it a bridge loan, bridge financing, you know, and they’ll pay the agency. So, that is a reputable program.

There’s also Veterans Care Planning Institute and there’s some others coming up. Now there’s the Direct Care from the VA and they recently just raised the reimbursement rates. You’ve got to get credentialed, like a caregiving agency has to be credentialed to be able to do that, but I encourage.

So, the point of what Connect Our Elders would do in this situation is, if you are an elder veteran, any veteran, please go to the VA and enroll. Because I’ve had a lot of elder veteran clients over the year who never even went and applied for disability and they were like World War II, storming the beaches and you’re like what?! But it’s a different generation.

But understand those resources. So, Direct Care that the VA pays for, caregiving in the home that the VA pays for, and then you’ve got Aid in Attendance which has that financial criteria, all of that wartime, certain dates around it, and I can send anybody the information that wants it.