By Rob Kinslow on Nov 18, 2022 11:30:00 AM
Herlinda Navarez has been there.
Herlinda, who goes by Linda, is a community liaison for Seniorlink & Caregiver Homes. She speaks with caregivers who are calling to learn about Seniorlink’s caregiver support programs and helps them enroll.
What callers quickly learn is that not only will Linda walk them through the process, she knows exactly what they’re going through. She understands. That’s because it wasn’t long ago that Linda was a caregiver, too, taking care of her mother full-time. She understands the work, the frustration, the loneliness—and what a difference it can make when you get the help you need.
“I tell my callers, ‘When you know better, you do better,’” says Linda. She explains to caregivers that the more they know about the help they can get, the better off they’ll be—less stress, greater confidence and greater skill caring for their loved one once they get the right support.
Linda should know. Just a few years ago she was on the other end of the phone, a caregiver calling Seniorlink. Inspired by the support she received through the company’s Structured Family Caregiving program, in June 2021 Linda switched places and joined the Seniorlink team. Now she is the reassuring voice that tells worried callers, “You’ve got this.”
“I’ve seen caregiving from both ends,” says Linda, a mother of four grown children who lives in northwest Indiana with her husband, Richard. ”And now it’s come full circle for me.” In fact, Linda will tell you, she’s gone from a job she did with love for nearly three years—caregiving—to a job she loves. “I found my forever job,” Linda says about being a community liaison for Seniorlink. “This is the best decision I ever made.”
It was a decision and a job she spent years preparing for, as her story shows.
A promise made, a promise kept
Back in 2016, after many years raising children and working for a nonprofit, Linda went back to college to finish her bachelor’s degree in business management. One week after she started, however, her father took ill and was admitted to an ICU. It was there that Linda promised her dad that she would always take care of her mother.
“In our Hispanic culture, the role of caregiver for a parent falls to the oldest daughter, and in my family of eight, that was me,” she says.
Linda’s father died some months later. Two days after his funeral, Linda kept her promise and moved her mother, Francisca, into her family home. This meant that in addition to her full-time job, schoolwork and two teenage daughters with busy after-school schedules, Linda was now a caregiver: Francisca had multiple health conditions, including Parkinson’s and dementia, and required a lot of assistance with daily activities, like bathing, dressing and eating.
She also suffered seizures and was at high risk of falling, having already broken her pelvis once in a fall. “So I couldn’t leave her alone, not even for 20 minutes,” Linda said. She coordinated with her best friend and her youngest sister to make sure someone was with Francisca at all times so Linda could run errands and chauffeur daughters Haley and Jasmine to their many activities.
Between coordinating care and assisting her mother 24/7, Linda was working a full-time job in addition to her “real” job. “It was full hands on with my mom,” Linda says. “It was a lot of work.”
The stress became almost unbearable. “I had shingles twice and a near-nervous breakdown,” says Linda. “So many nights I literally cried myself to sleep.” One of those nights she searched the internet for “help with mom.” That’s when Linda learned about Seniorlink & Caregiver Homes.
Before discovering Seniorlink, Linda was considering leaving her job to care for her mom full-time. She remembers thinking, “You know, I’m done. Money isn’t everything. And then I stumbled upon this.”
“This” was Structured Family Caregiving. The program gives caregivers access to their own caregiver coach and other resources to help them manage day-to-day care as well as medical emergencies. In some states, including in Indiana where Linda lives, caregivers may qualify for a daily stipend as well.
“I asked, ‘You’re going to pay me to stay home to take care of my mom?’” Linda recalls. “And they were like, yes!” Linda couldn’t believe it. “I had never heard of such a program.”
It turned out to be just what she needed. Linda left her job and was finally able to focus on her mom. Supported by her Seniorlink caregiver team, Linda helped Francisca go from 14 medications down to five—no more diabetes medication, no more Coumadin. She took her mother to get her hair and nails done every six weeks. “My mom loved Marilyn Monroe,” Linda laughs. “She always had beautiful red fingernails!” Francisca’s doctor told Linda she was doing a great job. And Linda was able to continue school and earn her bachelor’s, graduating magna cum laude.
And that’s how it was, right up until Francisca passed away at age 84, having been able to spend precious time with her children and grandchildren—and they with her.
Now Linda is the one telling caregivers “yes” and giving callers hope. Her role involves telling caregivers about the Structured Family Caregiving program and helping them enroll, but for Linda it is much more than that. Many callers are at their wit’s end. Linda recalls one caregiver who said, “I just need $80 a month to buy my dad’s nutritional drinks.” Seniorlink helped her get paid for being a caregiver so that was no longer an issue. Another caller’s mother had dementia and had lost her lifetime savings in a fraud scheme. Not only was the family experiencing financial hardship as a result, their sense of trust had also been shattered. Seniorlink provided financial and emotional support to help the family make ends meet and work with a team they could trust.
“I think why I love this job so much is that I can relate,” Linda says of these stories. “I feel the pain. I sense the fear, I sense the loneliness.”
She’s there for her callers. “I tell them, ‘I understand. Take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay. Trust me. You’re going to get the support, the education and the coaching you need. All you have to do is pick up the phone or reach out through our Vela app to connect with your nurse or your social worker.” Linda always emphasizes the personal, hands-on nature of Seniorlink’s caregiver support. “I tell them, ‘You are given a team and that is your team.’”
It’s a team of which she is now an important part. When asked what has meant the most to her about joining Seniorlink, Linda doesn’t hesitate. “People truly care,” she says. Thanks to community liaisons like Linda, that care starts with the very first call.
At Seniorlink & Caregiver Homes, we know what caregivers are going through. If you take care of a family member or friend, learn more about our coaching and support programs for caregivers and how they could help you.