Where the heart is

Services like Happy at Home help aging population maintain independence, connections

Happy at Home owner Kaliahna Baxter is passionate about creating bonds with her clients.

Happy at Home owner Kaliahna Baxter is passionate about creating bonds with her clients.

Photo by Rachel Bush

Kaliahna Baxter paused recently while speaking about her clients at Happy at Home, an in-home care service for senior citizens. She was trying to think of an anecdote—and it wasn’t that she couldn’t remember a good one, there were simply too many to choose from. Finally, she smiled and pointed to a photo hanging on the purple wall of her Esplanade office. It was of her with an elderly man, grinning ear to ear. “I know you’re not supposed to have favorite clients, but …” she shrugged.

“I spent a lot of time with this client before he passed; he didn’t have a lot of local family around,” she recalled. “I happened to be pregnant during the time we worked together, and he was so excited that I was having a boy. I told him I was thinking of naming my son Banton, and he said, ‘Oh, my god, you can’t name him that!’ He chose the name Brian and now I have a son named Brian,” she said with a laugh.

Happy at Home celebrates five years in business this year. Along with her parents, Don and Vickie Cutler, Baxter runs the operation that today employs 135 people around Butte County and Sacramento, serving 80 clients and providing 250 hours of in-home support every 24 hours.

Happy at Home was born from Baxter’s desire to provide quality in-home care and companionship services to aging seniors. “I started doing in-home caretaking work when I was in college, and that’s when the light bulb went off; I realized how cool it was to help people stay in their homes as they aged.” Baxter was additionally motivated after seeing her great-grandmother pass in the comfort of her own home.

Happy at Home provides an extensive list of nonmedical services, and clients can receive anywhere from two hours of support a week to 24/7 care, depending on their needs. Caregivers are trained in assisting with activities of daily living, such as bathing, feeding and dressing, as well as more complex activities, like housekeeping, shopping and medication reminders.

“But the most important service of all is companionship,” stressed Baxter. “Whether you’re there to run errands or help them bathe, you’re there to provide companionship.”

Lorrie Badour, community relations director at Amber Grove Place (Chico’s newest residential care facility for the elderly, which specializes in memory care), agreed this sense of community is a crucial element of both preventive care and longevity.

“Socialization is one of the key components in potentially postponing cognitive loss,” Badour said. “And isolation is closely linked to depression. Whether someone stays at home as they age, or moves to a facility, it’s extremely important to develop and maintain close relationships.”

The importance of senior care options is amplified by Butte County’s specific demand for services. “We tend to be an older population,” said Joe Cobrey, director of Passages, a Chico nonprofit agency that focuses on supporting caregivers and those in their care. “According to the Department of Finance, roughly 57,350 people are over age 60 in Butte County, which is 25 percent of the population. And by 2030, 20 percent of the nation is expected to be over age 60.” This influx of aging citizens is directly correlated to the baby boomer generation.

“Our county has already surpassed the national statistic [of the expected aging population], so where will we be in another 10 years?” Cobrey said.

Cobrey offered a slew of things to consider in preparing for stages of aging, from making homes accessible to seniors, to ensuring there are enough care facilities and medical services available. He also points out an important catch-22: “Baby boomers will live longer than previous generations of elders, because they are able to address chronic conditions. But they need more help to sustain this level of health. The demand for services is going to continue growing.”

Roy Bishop, medical director of Chico’s Argyll Medical Group, notes that while the health care system is often complicated (and costly) for seniors to navigate, there are ways to alleviate such difficulties. He says in-home care services, such as Happy at Home, can reduce feelings of isolation between seniors and the medical community. “With in-home care, a patient can communicate with a caregiver or RN, who can then communicate to a doctor, without the patient having to leave their home or make appointments.”

Whether through an assisted-living facility or in-home care, the importance of senior caregiving services is invaluable for current and future generations. For aging individuals and their families, Badour says “being mentally and financially aware of what’s ahead is important” for making smoother transitions.

And while there are many adjustments to make, Badour suggests that there’s much to look forward to, as well. “Aging is often thought of as ‘the end.’ But it’s a new chapter of life, and can remain very fulfilling.”

With her work at Happy at Home, Baxter gets that sense of fulfillment daily. “I was once a caregiver and now I’m able to train others as caregivers and that’s really special,” she said of the business she started with only 12 employees five years ago. “And for those who need the care, it’s awesome to know that they have providers who will continuously show up to help them and even expose them to the outside world. They can retain a sense of freedom and that’s really important.”