Thursday, July 9, 2009

Exeter’s Senior Hand Celebrates Almost 20 Years In Business

By Lara Bricker
EXETER__Wayne Patten developed an understanding of the elderly and their issues at a young age.
The 70-year-old Exeter man was raised to the age of 10 by his great grandparents in a small village in the Kennebec River valley in central western Maine. That early interaction with the elderly gave him a desire to help out other seniors. So when the real estate market dropped in the late 1980s and Patten, then a developer, was looking for a new career, he thought of opening a nursing home.
He returned to college and took classes in gerontology. But when one of his professors noted that only a small percent of the elderly end up in a nursing home, Patten had another idea—home care services for the elderly.
At the time, Patten was the oldest person in his class, but he says that wasn’t a disadvantage as he also received the highest grade. When he approached on of his professors with his idea for a home care company, the woman actually wanted to go in as a partner.
“At that time, 20 years ago, everybody though the in home care industry was going to take off like a rocket,” Patten said, adding he decided against forming a partnership and went out on his own.
The industry did not reach the level of popularity many expected, which Patten attributes to the cost which is not covered by most medical insurance plans.
Patten initially employed a number of senior citizen employees in the business which offers everything from personal assistants to respite care to driving services to housecleaning. As years went on he said it became harder and harder to find qualified elderly employees and most of his employees now are not in that age bracket.
Patten hand picks each employee for the company and all caregivers are subjected to a criminal background check. He employees between 20 to 40 caregivers depending on the time and says he has deliberately kept his operation small.
“I totally believe the bigger you get the less able you are to give people the personal touch approach,” Patten said.
That personal touch is what Patten said sets his company apart from more commercial caregiving operations. He personally meets with each new client to go over their needs as well as to get to know them and their interests. He then pairs the client up with a caregiver whose personality and approach seem like a good match. For example, one client was very interested in chess and hoped to find a caregiver with the same interest. Patten says it took some time but he found a suitable match, with a background in chess, to partner up with the client. One paired up, he strives to use the same caregiver each time for a client.
“It comes down to that personal touch issue, you don’t have a different person every time like you might in a big company,” Patten said.
Patten and his employees know that it can be difficult for elderly when people “barge” into their home and tell them what to do.
“We have more respect than that,” he said. “It is their home. We work directly with our customers and clients providing what they need and want.”
Patten said he is open-minded and follows a “live and let live” philosophy with clients.
“This is why all caregivers working with Senior Hand honor elderly rights,” Patten said. “Our clients are people who earned the right not to be pushed around.”
One of the biggest concerns that Patten hears from the elderly is that they will outlive their savings. And he acknowledges that many elderly need a service like the one he provides but cannot afford to pay for help. With national healthcare policy debate taking place, Patten said he would like to see the federal government include coverage of homecare services in their discussions.
By staying small, Patten has managed to keep his hourly price down, with a range of $17 to $26 per hour, which he says is the least expensive rates in the area. One unique aspect of his driving service is that if the driver uses the client’s car, there is no additional charge for mileage as with some other companies.
Some people in need of assistance may be tempted to place an ad in the newspaper looking for a less expensive caregiver, but Patten cautions that may bring in responses from people who are looking to take advantage of the elderly.
“The fact that the elderly are vulnerable to crooks is no joke,” Patten said.
Though the service is a business for Patten, he said it is one he truly enjoys and take satisfaction from helping people.
“We are also, and most importantly, giving them a sense of safety and security,” he said. “We care, we care about our customers.”
For more information call 778-2400 or

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