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Age of opportunity for home caregivers in Sonoma County

  • Home caregiver Alessandra Accinelili takes client Bill Schank, 88, on long drives to the coast and the redwoods, and he loves visiting the birds like Max the cockatoo at the Bird Exchange near Sebastopol. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

About half of all Sonoma County residents over the age of 60 — or 50,000 people — get some sort of paid care at home, from licensed medical care to general assistance with daily living.

Those estimates, from the county's Health Services Department, support a thriving industry that will only grow as baby boomers age.

The job of a home health aide has become one of the fastest-growing occupations in Sonoma County. This decade, the number of home health aides will grow 29 percent in the county, an increase of 340jobs between 2010 and 2020, according to state Employment Development Department projections.

"We're an aging population; we know that we're just going to have an increasing need for in-home care," said Diane Kaljian, Sonoma County's director of adult and aging services.

Today, one in seven Sonoma County residents is 65 and older. By 2030, in what has been dubbed the "silver tsunami," that share will grow to one in four people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"There's enough there for everybody, absolutely," said Sharon Grinnell, a nurse who started Home Health Care Inc. in Santa Rosa in 1980. "Demographically, this is a good business for another 30years."

Several different categories of workers have emerged to help care for the county's aging residents.

There are more than 1,160 people now employed in Sonoma County as home health aides, providing care that includes basic medical procedures such as injections and dispensing medication, up from 460 in 2001. Not all are at agencies like Grinnell's; some work in assisted-living homes and others are independent contractors.

That job sector doesn't include in-home supportive services, or IHSS, providers who are paid by the state. They handle things ranging from personal hygiene assistance to helping with transportation, but no medical tasks.

IHSS workers — some of whom are family members getting reimbursed — serve 1,571 Sonoma County residents over 65, according to the county Health Services Department, which oversees the program locally.

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