Crystal Lake, McHenry agencies seek in-home caregivers as more baby boomers age at home

More than 1 million new care professionals needed by 2030, when last baby boomers turn 65

Marjo Gunnison, a home caregiver with Home Instead, helps move Joseph Seminara, 89, to another room in his Wonder Lake home on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023.

Joseph Seminara, 89, survived a stroke about a year and a half ago and lost his ability to live alone in his Wonder Lake home without help.

Where some older adults in similar situation may have gone into assisted-living facilities, Seminara has been able to stay in his home he once shared with his late wife thanks to the assistance of Marjo Gunnison, 61, his caregiver.

“She’s a big help, a wonderful lady,” Seminara said of Gunnison, who is one of four caregivers taking shifts to provide him care at his home 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Gunnison is in a profession in need of more workers now more than ever as more baby boomers turn 65. Caregiving is among the industries with the largest employment gaps, according to information provided by Home Instead in Crystal Lake, where Gunnison works.

Caregiving will require more than 1 million new care professionals by 2030, when the last baby boomers turn 65, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“More than 10,000 people turn 65 every day in the United States, and people are living longer, healthier lives,” according to the Department of Health and Human Services. “Healthy lifestyles, planning for retirement, and knowing your options for health care and long-term care are more important than ever before.”

In McHenry County and its surrounding areas, there are currently about 92,000 people ages 65 and older, according to Home Instead.

Caregivers help with all the basics of life, such as cooking, cleaning, assisting with bathing and dressing, as well as driving patients to appointments or social gatherings, said Gunnison, of Cherry Valley.

Without his caregivers, Seminara said, “I would be a mess.”

“They are very important, and it is better than [being] in a nursing home,” he said. “They are nice places, but it still is not like home.”

MarJo Gunnison, a home caregiver with Home Instead, helps move Joseph Seminara, 89, to another room in his Wonder Lake home on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023.

In addition to physical aid, caregivers also provide companionship to many aging adults who may have few friends or family nearby and are unable to go out and have social interactions.

Or, like Seminara, they are widowed. He and his wife were married 68 years before she died in 2021, he said.

Seminara, who has two adult children who visit, described Gunnison and his other caregivers as family.

The emotional connection is as important as the physical aid the caregivers provide, said Sara Oakley, general manager of Home Instead.

Oakley said that when anyone, especially an aging adult, is left alone for too long with no one to talk to or interact with, they stop eating and caring for themselves. The lack of interaction and conversation also can lead to emotional or mental health issues and mental decline.

“You think of a meal as the time family gathers around the table talking, and if they don’t have people coming in and spending time with them, they neglect things like taking care of themselves,” Oakley said. “If you don’t have companionship and interaction with others, you become depressed and isolated [and develop] anxiety.”

To help meet the need for caregivers, Home Instead hosted a job fair last week and still seeks to hire at least 40 part-time and full-time caregivers, Oakley said.

Nationally, the company hopes to hire 25,000 caregivers this year alone, she said.

Providing quality caregivers not only helps adults safely age in their homes, but it also takes the strain off family members and the health care industry, Oakley said.

“We are there to help make sure we catch things early,” Oakley said. “Being preventative will help reduce strain on local hospitals.”

Sande Sherman, owner and president of FirstLight Home Care in McHenry, also is struggling to hire staff to help the growing number of aging adults.

“The client demand has absolutely, positively increased,” said Sherman, who is going into her ninth year of owning FirstLight.

She has witnessed the increase in need in recent years not only because of aging but also because of COVID-19.

The pandemic increased the number of people choosing not to go into a long-term care facility. It also drew caregivers away from the profession.

“People want to be in their homes more, and they are not as apt to go into assisted living, though I think that is getting a little better,” Sherman said.

Like Home Instead, Sherman also has tried job fairs and other avenues to hire the right staff.

“We have to do all kinds of things to do the best we can to find good caregivers that lead with their heart,” Sherman said. “We don’t want just anybody to do the job. It has to be the right, special person that has the calling, and that is what is really hard to come by.”

Sherman, who left the corporate world and was drawn to caregiving as a result of caring for her own parents, acknowledged that it’s a tough job.

“We all can learn that skill, but you can’t learn the heart,” she said.

Oakley said those she sees drawn to the field typically are compassionate and understanding.

Gunnison said she has worked in the industry for about 25 years and finds it to be a very comfortable and rewarding profession. She recalled that her grandmother was once in the same situation as Seminara and she helped her.

Gunnison said that as her own children were growing up, she did office work. But when they were adults, she turned to caregiving and often would help friends.

She eventually came to work for Home Instead, where she has been working since 2020.

“God kept leading me down this path, so I went for the calling, and it’s been good,” Gunnison said. “I’ve met a lot of good people. I enjoy being able to be there and taking care of people.”