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November 4, 2012

Fast-growing field: Home health aides, personal care attendants in heavy demand

MINNEAPOLIS — There’s no such thing as a typical workday for Ethel Muchlinski, 60, a care manager at Parkshore Senior Campus in St. Louis Park, Mo. On a Thursday morning last summer, Muchlinski kicked off her shift by checking on a 94-year-old resident, one of the staff’s favorites. The popular resident was so sick she had everyone worried and upset that morning. After ordering painkillers and offering comforting words, Muchlinski moved on to another resident, also in his 90s, who was recovering from ear surgery. She cleaned his wound and left instructions with his adult son. Then she zipped down the hall to yet another appointment: Her weekly chitchat with a sharp 95-year-old who favors current events over talk of any ailments.

An energetic woman with a trim build, Muchlinski made the obvious observation as she sped between patients: “You have to be physically fit for this job.” It also helps to have a certain amount of life experience, perhaps as a caregiver for a parent or spouse. “The successful ones are older,” observed Muchlinski of her coworkers. In fact, three of the four care managers in Muchlinski’s office are 55 and older.

Muchlinski and her coworkers share something more: They took to working with seniors late in their careers, usually past the age of 50. A registered nurse, Muchlinski launched her own career in pediatrics, where she worked for 20 years. She later ascended to an executive-level position with a local health care company. “That was a job that got my kids through college and paid for the weddings,” she explained. Then the recession hit and her employer opted for downsizing. For the first time in her adult life, Muchlinski found herself unemployed at the age of 56.

So she spent some time reassessing her passions and her interests. She knew she wanted to return to patient care. Lucky for Muchlinski, she quickly landed a new position with Lifesprk, formerly AgeWell, an Edina-based company specializing in “life care management” for older adults (Lifesprk employees are responsible for care at the Parkshore Senior Campus). Muchlinski noted that Lifesprk also employs activities directors and home health aides, positions that don’t require degrees like hers. Muchlinski stressed that “you don’t have to be a nurse to do this work.”

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