Caring for the Elderly: A Life of Service | News

Caring for the Elderly: A Life of Service | News

After 35 years in the home health care field, Lola Seekman retired just months before her 79th birthday. 

Lola obtained her Home Health Aide Homemaker certification from Itasca Community College in 1983. She began her career in both home care and hospice in 1986 with Itasca County Public Health. She later moved to Itasca Memorial Hospital, then on to Access Healthcare, Recover Health, and lastly in 2021, to Aveanna Healthcare. 

Prior to home care, Lola operated an auto body repair business with her husband Bob and worked in food service at Sugar Hills Ski Resort. Following the closing of the resort, her home care journey began when she answered a call from Itasca County Public Health regarding a client returning from the veteran’s hospital needing care. After Bob’s death in 1993, Lola performed auto body work during the day and provided home care services at night, managing both jobs for another nine years. She closed the auto body business in 2002 and continued in home care and hospice.

Prior to law changes in 2005, resulting in new regulations for home care worker duties, Lola’s training allowed her to perform basic medical services such as changing bandages, wound care, physical therapy, and medication management. Today home care is considered a non-medical service focused on providing assistance with daily activities such as grooming, bathing, dressing, ambulation, driving, light housekeeping, laundry, errands, meal preparation, medication reminders, escorting to appointments, and companionship in a home setting. Receiving care in one’s home allows many elderly people to live independently for as long as possible. These services are typically paid for through Medicare, Medicaid, VA benefits, or Private Insurance.

Lola has covered the span of Itasca County, driving to the homes of the elderly as needed. Reimbursement policies for work related expenses such as travel time and mileage fluctuated amongst her employers over the years but that didn’t slow her down.  Lola’s dedication and commitment to her elderly clients has always been first and foremost in her work. “It was never about the money. I was born and raised to help people.”

Feisty by nature, Lola is skilled at developing pathways of understanding with clients and was often called upon to work with challenging personalities. Overall, difficult beginnings were few. After working with hundreds of clients, she reflects fondly upon the wonderful people she has met over the years. While adherence to professional boundaries was expected, she found it very difficult to work with someone day in and out without developing a friendship and genuine care for their long-term wellbeing. Lola often remembered birthdays or recognized special occasions by arriving with treats or other tokens that she knew would brighten their day.

The social distancing requirements of COVID-19 presented another challenging and unforeseen aspect of home care work for Lola. Home care workers are classified as essential workers and home care delivery requires close physical contact. Since the virus began, Lola continued meeting with client needs with the use of face shields, masks, and goggles, despite the risk.

Circles of Support honored Lola at their July 8th meeting at Veteran’s Park. Lola is a social justice advocate around issues that impact people in poverty. With over 10 years of participation in KOOTASCA’s Circles of Support programming, she extends greetings, friendship, and acceptance to all, regardless of the diverse life struggles that many arrive with. 

In addition to her energy, quick wit, and hugs, Lola is known as ‘mom’ to many members out of their love and respect for her and perhaps the absence of that figure in their own lives. Lola has delivered food to the homes of members who don’t have enough between paydays. She’s been an ear and a shoulder for our members struggling with grief, loss, illness, domestic violence, and homelessness. She’s offered her time to help people get to doctor appointments, airports, and other important life events. Her willingness to share her life experiences and struggles in order to help someone else has fostered hope for many over the years. All over the community, Lola strives to help people understand poverty and how it impacts the lives of so many of our residents.  

Her numerous community involvements include a long-term commitment to hospice with 15 years as an employee and 20 years as a volunteer. Lola has been an AARP Driver’s Safety Instructor for the past 14 years. She participates in the Stay Active & Independent for Life exercise class through ElderCircle and belongs to a local memoir writing group. Lola was recognized as the Outstanding Senior Volunteer of Itasca County in 2015. She also received the Employee of Year award from Recover Health Corporation for the year 2015. Lola plans to continue her volunteer work with Circles of Support, Hospice, and AARP Tax Aid, as well as spend time with friends, and enjoy long conversations with her son Bob.

The Department of Employment and Economic Development is projecting 16,000 job openings in the Home Health field in Minnesota through 2024. Further projections indicate that by 2035 more Minnesotans will be over 65 than under 18, signaling a long-term increasing need for Home Care workers. 

Despite the demand, Health Care support occupations remain in the lowest wage tier in the state, along with food preparation, and cleaning and maintenance jobs. The median wage for Home Health care workers in Minnesota is $11.99. 

These low wages, combined with a high rate of part-time hours in this field, make it challenging for home care workers to support themselves and their families. According to the National Direct Care Workforce Resource Center, nearly half of the nation’s home care workers live in low income households and over half rely on some form of public assistance. 

After 35 years in the field, Lola retired with a wage of $13 per hour.

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