Comfort Keepers Offers a Helping Hand

When a loved one needs just a little more support than you can offer, this organization is ready to help. From household help and mere companionship to high-level care, comfort at home is the ultimate goal.

Comfort Keepers caregivers are specially trained to work with clients, rather than simply do things for them.

It’s a difficult decision when a loved one needs more care and support than family members can offer.

The options abound and include assisted living, in-home health care or a move to a family member’s home. While medical care is often a critical need, it’s not always the only need.

Comfort Keepers, 4855 E. State St., Ste. 22 in Rockford, offers an alternative option. Caring for the whole person is at the center of the organization’s Interactive Caregiving philosophy – a holistic approach that cares for mind, body, spirit and well-being.

Part of a national organization, Comfort Keepers specializes in nonmedical care, with an emphasis on support and companionship. Services include household duties like cleaning, laundry and cooking, but it can also include travel to doctor appointments or social interaction with a favorite game or activity. At the same time, caregivers could offer 24/7 care and help with bathing, cleaning, dressing or hospice support.

“We facilitate seniors to be able to stay in their homes, because most people want to stay in their homes even when they’re elderly,” says Lucretia Ristin, who co-owns Comfort Keepers with her partner of 12 years, Mark Podemski. “It’s hard to stay home when you’re ill or all alone and need a little help. So, that’s what we do.”
Actual care is only part of the job.

“One of our goals is to implement Interactive Caregiving, which means that we use every moment to do things with our clients instead of just doing things for them,” says Ristin. “Elevating their sense of purpose and control, and turning little tasks into memorable moments.”

“We have some clients who only have us there for companionship,” she adds. “They have no one around, and so we’re there to hold their hands, take them to the doctor. We go beyond daily care needs to nurture those unique qualities and bring about a sense of hope, purpose and joy. We help them reclaim all that life has to offer. Research shows that they feel better, live longer and experience life more fully when we lift their spirits.”

It’s hard to know when a loved one needs help, and it’s often difficult to have that conversation, so Ristin and her team provide numerous resources as families explore their options. If a family member is skipping meals, losing weight, getting confused, missing aspects of personal hygiene, forgetting appointments and medicines, or showing injuries from falls and loss of balance, it may be a good indicator that help is needed.

When a family calls Comfort Keepers, their first stop is typically with intake coordinator Deanna Ward. She’ll ask lots of questions to understand what’s needed, and she’ll help to educate the family in their decision. Eventually, a dedicated care coordinator visits with the client at home.

“We assess the situation, assess the home and determine what is needed for the client to remain comfortably in their home,” says Ristin. “Then, we try to find out which caregivers fit well with the client. If they have similar hobbies or interests, that usually works out well.”

It takes a special kind of person to offer care, and safety is top of mind for many families. So, Ristin and Podemski take extra steps to ensure the right people end up in a client’s home. Before being hired, each caregiver undergoes an extensive background check, fingerprinting, drug tests and rigorous training, all to standards that exceeds state mandates.

“We want people to be in our client’s homes that we would want in our own homes,” says Ristin. “We’re very meticulous about hiring people and try really, really hard to make sure only the best possible people are going into your home.”

Caregivers undergo several days of training and practice before entering their first homes and receive regular additional updates in their training. Many go even farther in studying additional aspects of care that help them to better serve clients.

Demand for services continues to grow, and Ristin says she’s always seeking qualified caregivers – especially right now, as demand is high and talent is in short supply. Interested people can contact Comfort Keepers directly about job openings.

“Our caregivers are truly angels,” says Ristin, and her clients have plenty of stories to back it up.

In one case, an elderly widower was experiencing such grief that he lost the will to live. Dismayed by his refusal to leave bed, the man’s family hired Comfort Keepers.

“We sent in a caregiver who had dealt with a loss of her own, and in two weeks she was able to get this man out of bed and bring him back to life,” says Ristin. “They created a very special bond because they had something in common, the loss of a spouse, and she was able to teach him how to grieve. Now, it’s unbelievable the transformation.”

Podemski bought the business about five years ago from a couple who ran it for 15 years. For he and Ristin, Comfort Keepers is particularly meaningful. When Podemski’s mother had late-stage cancer, neither Mark nor his siblings were able to offer the sort of personal, dedicated care she needed.

“She wasn’t even able to get up and take the dog out,” recalls Ristin. “She couldn’t do anything for herself. She could barely go to the toilet. Mark later said, had he known this service was available, he would have loved to have someone help his mom.”

While Comfort Keepers is uniquely positioned to help seniors, its caregivers can support people of most any age or need, from special-needs adults to homebound seniors and people who need only temporary help.

“Staying at home, you do have an option, especially if you have family that’s involved and just needs a little help,” says Ristin. “We come in for a minimum of four hours a day, whereas in assisted living you won’t get the same level of care. With us, you’re one-on-one.”

Cost-wise, Comfort Keepers is pretty competitive, adds Ristin, and it’s safer than the individual who offers to help but isn’t vetted, licensed or bonded – as Comfort Keepers is.

Positive stories pour into Ristin throughout the year. It’s not unusual to receive handwritten notes from loved ones or elderly clients who enjoy her Christmas cards and the one-on-one attention they received from a caregiver.

“Thank you for taking care of me,” wrote one elderly man. “You are my life.”

“Thank you so much for helping me set up care so quickly for Ben when he was discharged home from the hospital,” writes one family. “He was home with me for a month, and it would not have been possible without your help. You selected a good caregiver.”

Says another: “Each one had a kindness and interest in John’s welfare, so we are very grateful for each person. We think you cannot pay them enough for the service they give.

The feedback makes Ristin smile.

“There was one woman who wrote to us and said, ‘Thank you for your Christmas card. You’re the only one who sent me a card this year.’ I was just floored. That was the only card she received. It feels so good when you feel appreciated for what you do.”