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PITTSFIELD — Nearly six months into the pandemic, and you're pretty sure your restaurant job is not coming back.

Maybe you do have a job, but you're not comfortable working around so many people.

Or perhaps you're sick and tired of being sidelined, when you know that there are human beings who need your help, right now.

Home Instead Senior Care of Pittsfield — providing caregiver services in the Berkshires to seniors aging in place — is waiting for your application today. Full-time and part-time positions are available for regular shifts, as well as weekend coverage, overnight and on-call slots.

Donna Smith, owner of the Home Instead Berkshire County office, is looking for compassionate caregivers, even those who might not have considered this kind work before. For instance, area residents who were working in retail or food industries, or who might not be enjoying their current caregiving roles at large facilities, might be perfect.

"In home care, we are working one on one with people in their homes. so public contact is minimal — it's a very safe environment," says Smith.

Certified nursing assistants and home health aides, for example, usually find they like one-on-one caregiving more, where they have time to get to know each client. Smith also notes that applicants who have provided care for a loved one, often make the best caregivers, having received the rewards of their experience.

Benefits are plenty for the full-time staff, with health, dental, 401(k) and generous paid time off.

Helping in every way

Home Instead caregivers help in every conceivable way, based on the needs of their clients and their clients' families. Most caregivers serve multiple clients, and the tasks are as varied as the seniors themselves.

"You're probably going to be doing a little bit of everything with a client," says Smith. Helping around the house, food preparation, housekeeping, errands, rides to doctor appointments, as well as personal care needs, such as toileting, ambulating and bathing.

Smith says some clients have dementia, Alzheimer's disease and other cognitive impairments. Some require around-the-clock-care or hospice, and Home Instead caregivers provide that in flexible shifts.

"The biggest gift we give clients is companionship. When seniors are stuck at home, they're isolated. Our presence in their home might be their only interaction of the day," notes Smith.

The importance of that contact is often lost on modern society, but Home Instead recognizes it's needed. As such, when Smith is looking for a caregiver, she's keeping an eye out for an ability to build a relationship.

Simple gestures in the relationship with clients, like putting out a bird feeder, going to a movie or helping with a scrapbook of old family photos, have meant everything to the clients and the families who care for them, says Smith.

"We make a difference in our clients' lives. We hear their stories, we provide them with dignity, and we help them stay independent," says Smith. "It gives their sons and daughters, who may live far away, some peace of mind."

It makes a difference in the lives of caregivers, too, she says.

"We, as the professional caregiver, get a lot of personal satisfaction from the relationships. That's what I love about this work," says Smith, who has been a caregiver to many of Home Instead's early clients.

It's clear that given the pandemic, Home Instead clients feel safest in their homes and the numbers of people who want to age in place are increasing every day, explains Smith.

Appreciating front-line essential workers

To show appreciation for the dedication of caregivers as essential front-line workers, Smith says Home Instead has increased its pay rates across the board, and is also offering a sign-on bonus for new hires.

Flexible scheduling and hours are also a major perk at Home Instead; these mirror the needs of clients, but also play out well for employees who have other responsibilities. For example, an out-of-work mom or dad who is teaching their kids at home by day, can also be a caregiver overnight.

"You sleep with one ear open, and you get up to assist when you're needed," says Smith. "You're able to get your rest, and be there for your kids, by being an overnight caregiver."

Some shifts are 24 hours or as short as four hours, enough time to cover for a client's spouse, or assist with meals or the bedtime routine.

Having served the Berkshires for 20 years now, Smith says people's needs have changed. Berkshirites are staying home longer, for example, with the majority of her clients in their 80s and 90s.

Smith says that the subsequent generation — baby boomers — make great caregivers.

"They have a lot to talk about, they're active, and they have the patience," says Smith.

Training provided

The company provides extensive training on everything from proper body mechanics while working (how to move while you help others) to the professional ethics of being a caregiver.

"We provide all that training. If you can come with the heart of a caregiver, we can teach you those other things," says Smith.

Compassion is a primary trait in all Home Instead caregivers. Patience and empathy are also key in successful caregivers, as well as a desire to fit into a client's daily life.

"It's really about coming into the client's life and doing things their way. After all, we're coming in as a guest in their home so doing things their way really helps nurture a positive relationship," says Smith.

Cooking recipes the way clients prefer, or putting things away where they belong, demonstrate care and respect, and build trust, which is an integral part of Home Instead's personalized care.

"When you're in a relationship with anybody, trust is the foundation of that relationship. Taking the time to build trust with our clients and respecting who they are makes them comfortable enough to allow us to provide intimate and necessary care," says Smith.

Supports at the home office

Caregivers most often are working independently, but they're not alone. Smith says they get support from multiple Home Instead staffers, from the registered nurse who writes client care plans to the staff social worker who can help navigate both geriatric care and family dynamics.

"Families are under enormous pressure, and a trained social worker provides valuable guidance," says Smith. The Home Instead social worker can assist with liaising for other community resources for clients, such as organizing Meals on Wheels or procuring adaptive equipment to help with the client's daily living.

There's also a Home Instead scheduling team, and a whole cadre of other caregivers who back up each other whenever needed.

"If they're sick, if it's vacation time, we're here behind them," says Smith. "We have 24-hour on-call backup, and two on-call managers who answer the phone every day. If something goes on after business hours, you have people in place to help."

At headquarters at 66 Wendell Ave., there's also a caregiver lounge, where staff can relax in between client visits, with computer access and resources for caregivers and clients. "The door is always open," says Smith.

COVID-19 safety measures

Since March, Home Instead has been speaking to clients and caregivers every day, screening for the coronavirus. "We're making sure people are safe," says Smith.

The company is delivering personal protective equipment to every caregiver, temperatures are taken every day, and caregivers stay home if they're sick. Families of clients are being screened, as well, if they are coming in for a visit.

"If someone is visiting from California, for example, we're going full PPE; we want the caregivers to be protected. If they're not comfortable in this setting, we'll make other arrangements," says Smith. "I need my caregivers to feel supported and safe, and to also know that we have people to step in if needed."

Reach out today

Just because you haven't considered caregiving work, doesn't mean you're not ideally suited for it, Smith says.

"Being a caregiver is wonderful, rewarding work, and I think there is a great group of people out there who have never thought about caregiving but will love it," says Smith.

To apply, visit homeinstead.online or call 413-442-0907.

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