Tucson business follows demographic trend

Baby boomers will start reaching retirement age in two years, beginning a trend that is forecast to increase the percentage of Americans over age 65 from about one in 10 now to one in five by 2025, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. 

With the aging of the baby boom, as well as declining fertility rates, Alicia Munnel, director of the Boston College center, said the U.S. is likely to continue to become “a nation of Floridas.” 

Nor is the trend likely to reverse, Munnel said. “Population aging is the result of very long-term trends in fertility and life expectancy.” In that context, the soaring birth rate of the baby boom, rather than the baby bust that followed, was the anomaly. While the aging of the boomers has made the transition more dramatic, “The outlook for 2080 is unaffected by the bust-boom-bust pattern. Instead, it simply reflects the long term trend in fertility and life expectancy,” she said, “and that means a permanent change in the demographic profile of the nation.” 

Not only older, the nation’s population will be less healthy overall, the center reported, pressuring hospitals to shorten patient stays even more, even as skilled nursing facilities struggle to keep pace with demand. 

Among those stepping forward to meet this trend, and the challenges it will create, are business partners Vida Johnson, former intensive care unit manager in Mesa, and Lori Whitesell, former director of nursing for an acute care hospital in Phoenix. Together, they have launched the Tucson franchise of Synergy HomeCare, a Mesa-based personal care company. 

Johnson and Whitesell are offering individualized in-home care, especially tailored to the needs of the elderly. From home visits, shopping and errands, to cooking and assistance with bathing and other basic care, their company’s services are designed to bridge the growing healthcare gap that the graying of America is creating. 

While home medical services are common, home-based non-medical services are more difficult to find, but they can be crucial in preventing a medical crisis, Johnson said. That’s where Synergy can make the difference. 
“Some of our clients are temporary, such as those recovering from surgery, and others are winter visitors,” she said. “There are also those who simply need someone to check on them. We help with the activities of daily living.” 

Whether referred by social workers or case managers, called in by rehabilitation centers to provide extended care for patients after discharge, or recommended by word of mouth, Johnson said the services Synergy offers make the difference between living in a care facility and living at home. 

The older people are, the more likely they’ll have health problems that require hospitalization. Yet, Johnson said, hospitals aren’t providing the level of convalescent care they used to offer. “People are being discharged still needing care. They may not be able to take a shower by themselves or go to the grocery store or drive to the pharmacy or doctors’ appointments.” 

Family can help, she said, “but a lot of times, kids don’t live in the same city or state as their parents. So, the parents don’t have that kind of support.” 

In addition to providing care, Johnson said their staff can also monitor a client’s home situation, removing accident hazards and watching for behavior changes that may indicate the onset of a medical problem. She said, “We can’t give medical advice, but we have a pretty good idea when it’s time to call a doctor.” 

She said, “I like what we’re doing because it allows us to take our skills from the hospital into the community. That’s where they’re needed.”