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Home Helpers: Aging population fuels home care business Service offers household help for elderly, infirm

June 18, 2007

Service offers household help for elderly, infirm

Julie Sullivan's "a-ha" moment came when she was trying to coordinate home care for her elderly grandfather in Huntington while she was in Indianapolis. Even though, as a supervisor at Visteon, she had significant control over her schedule, Sullivan said she couldn't visit as often as she needed.

"I thought, 'My word, what does the rest of the world do?'" she said.

So Sullivan set out to help, starting a local franchise of Cincinnati-based Home Helpers to provide inhome assistance for seniors and convalescents. Her employees help clients with tasks like cooking, cleaning and transportation-either on a drop-in or live-in basis.

"For someone who wants to be independent, this is the way to go," said Sullivan, 32.

Home Helpers certainly seems to be finding customers. In 2004, the business made $120,000. Revenue last year reached $1 million.

Clients find the service a godsend. Fishers resident David Seitz was the only family member in the area last year when his 87-year-old grandmother fell ill and had to be hospitalized. She was able to return to her west-side Indianapolis house relatively quickly, but she still had a few weeks of recovery to go and couldn't handle the cooking and cleaning on her own. Fortunately, Seitz knew about Sullivan's service.

"I called her frantically, saying I didn't know what to do," he recalled. Sullivan provided someone to take care of his grandmother's housekeeping needs until she could handle things on her own.

Home Helpers is a definite career change for Sullivan, who earned a bachelor's degrees in psychology and industrial technology from Purdue University. She worked for General Motors Corp. in Michigan for four years, then moved to Indianapolis to work at Visteon.

But the longer she worked in the auto industry, the more she worried about the future. She began thinking about other career options.

"I was kind of motivated by the possibility of these jobs leaving the country," she said. Then her grandfather fell ill and set the wheels of change in motion.

Starting the franchise wasn't too difficult. The parent company provided discounts on insurance and other necessities like software and an answering service, and Sullivan was able to cover startup costs out of her savings account.

She said Home Helpers gives its 600-plus franchisees the freedom to determine what services to offer. Even so, she's been considering striking out on her own.

Sullivan recruited her employees from area colleges, looking for certified nursing aides and home health aides. Even though Home Helpers does not provide medical services, Sullivan said she wants her employees to be qualified to help.

"The state doesn't license businesses like mine, so credibility for our employees is something we're always looking for," she said.

Something must be working. Indianapolis resident Gay Duvall has been using Home Helpers for 18 months to assist her 94-yearold father. His care giver is prompt, reliable and well-qualified, Duvall said.

Another challenge for Sullivan is managing Home Helpers' rapid growth. The first year was particularly difficult, since she kept her second-shift job while running the business from her home. In 2005, she left Visteon and opened an office at 6535 E. 82nd St.

Sullivan noted her clients often are trying to deal with the fact that a parent or grandparent is too ill or too frail to get by without help. She tries to be supportive.

"We want to know the families of our clients," she said.

Sullivan said she expects businesses such as hers to do well as baby boomers age. That generation is more willing to seek help earlier-especially if it means continuing to live independently.
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