by Harisa Paco, MSW, LSWAIC, CMC
When I was a toddler, my family, including my grandparents, emigrated to the United States from Bosnia in 1993. We were the first Bosnian family to live in Edmonds, Washington, just north of Seattle.
My grandfather had been a social worker in Bosnia. My mother, very much a social worker at heart, worked hard to learn English so that she could help other Bosnian families who were emigrating to the area. My family has always helped others.
Growing up, my parents both worked, and my grandparents helped raise me and my siblings. We kids were happy to do our share to support our family and other families. As my grandparents grew older, it was natural for me to pitch in. One of my grandmothers had ALS, and my grandfather was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. When I was in high school, I often took my grandfather to doctor’s appointments, on errands, and eventually I assisted him with daily care tasks. I was comfortable being around older adults and helping them in ways my peers might not.
CHOOSING A CAREER PATH
Initially, I had set my sights on becoming a nurse. While completing my undergraduate requirements for nursing school, I worked as a receptionist at a nursing home, and became a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). Even though nursing was my original goal, I always found myself gravitating towards the work of the social workers. It soon dawned on me that my talents lay elsewhere, so I shifted my studies to social work.
My undergraduate practicum was with Aging Wisdom, an Aging Life Care company in Seattle. I was accepted into the accelerated MSW program, during which I also interned at Aging Wisdom and was able to eventually take on clients of my own with leadership oversight and mentoring. Three months before school was finished, I was offered a job upon graduation. That was the best decision I ever made. My practicum and intern experiences helped me recognize that becoming an Aging Life Care Professional was the ideal career path since it combined my love of social work with my passion for helping older adults.
Working with older adults is where there is such great need. I see that demand growing.
As for Aging Life Care as a profession, it is challenging and exhausting and exhilarating and satisfying all at once. I love that what I do can make such a positive difference in a person’s life, and in the lives of that person’s family, friends and community. My clients have so much to teach me too.
AGING LIFE CARE IS MORE THAN MEDICAL
One of my current clients is a wonderful example of what Aging Life Care professionals can do to promote well-being and personhood. This particular client, whom I’ll refer to as Doc A, is a retired physician. He never married.
His single-family home, a classic 1940s two-story house here in Seattle, set on a small hill, had a treacherous, crumbling 20-step walkway to the front door. Inside, the stairs from the first floor to the second, where his bedroom was located, were steep, winding, and narrow, and not particularly supportive of an unsteady, 80+ year old living with dementia. Unfortunately, the house was difficult to adapt to the changing needs of Doc A, but we did our best.
When I started, the house needed attention. I helped ensure that his broken-down appliances were replaced, got the air conditioning repaired, hired landscapers to regularly maintain the yard and set up a housekeeping service. I also hired a contractor to improve the home’s overall safety. Because it often takes a village to support an older person in their home, I introduced myself to Doc A’s neighbors to enlist their support. These are the sorts of things I never imagined myself doing as an Aging Life Care Manager, but it’s more common than I’d thought, and so helpful to the overall care of our clients. It’s part of the holistic approach we take to support and care for each client.
WORKING CLOSELY WITH ALLIED PROFESSIONALS
We also worked closely with the home care agency that had been hired following Doc A’s return home from a hospital stay after he’d fallen at home. We worked hard to stabilize staffing, enhance the flow of communication between all parties involved in his care, as well as with his health care team, and addressed concerns about his inadequate nutrition. The overall affect was positive. Doc A was able to continue living in his home longer than expected.
As we’ve worked with Doc A, we’ve gotten to know him on a personal level. He frequently entertains me with his tales about hiking mountains in the Pacific Northwest, his time playing in a local orchestra and his volunteer medical work for local neighborhood clinics. Our Aging Life Care practice includes Creative Engagement Specialists, and we matched him with my colleague Amy, who visits frequently to makes sure that Doc A remains engaged in life with scenic drives and visits to the symphony and ballet, even as his abilities change.
Eventually, the time came when Doc A’s home could no longer optimally support him. We worked with a placement specialist and helped him to move to an environment that could better meet his needs. Throughout my time working with Doc A, he has come to trust and rely upon me. I was allowed the freedom to help find his next home. I thought carefully about the best setting for him and when the time came to move, he accepted it, settled in and started a brave, new chapter of his life.
GRATITUDE FOR THIS OPPORTUNITY
For me, being an Aging Life Care Professional means focusing on the big picture while at the same time paying attention to the small details in an effort to ensure each client’s quality of life is the best it can be. I love the part of our Code of Ethics that inspires us to treat each client as a “complete individual with their own history, narrative and unique cultural identity.”
I’m filled with gratitude to be doing this work, to be in a position where families trust us to come into a loved one’s life, get to know them, and help make decisions and work with other professionals to make the lives of our clients happier, safer, more nurturing and purposeful. I’m honored to be entrusted with the opportunity.
Harisa Paco, MSW, LSWAIC, CMC is a Certified Care Manager with Aging Wisdom. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Social Welfare and a Master’s Degree in Social Work with a focus on Multigenerational practice from the University of Washington. Harisa is a co-chair of the Aging Life Care Association’s Seattle Unit Group. She grew up in the suburbs of Seattle where her family still lives. In her free time, Harisa serves as the fundraising chair of Seattle City Rotaract and also participates in a youth mentoring program at the King County Juvenile Detention Center. Harisa is a student in Leadership Tomorrow, a program designed to enhance civic participation of emerging leaders within the Puget Sound region – Seattle class of 2018.
This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association™ and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.