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New Hampshire Senior Companions Community Action Program

New Hampshire Senior Companions Community Action Program

Much of the news about the direct care workforce focuses on the labor  shortage and the increasing number of seniors needing care. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 7.8 million job openings for direct care workers through 2026. Americans aged 85 and up will be 4.5%  of the population by 2050, according to Forbes.

An aging America and a need for more help is not news to longtime professional caregivers. What may be news to some is the increase in elders assisting each other. 

One place this is happening is with The New Hampshire Senior Companions Community Action Program. Based in Concord, NH, the organization is expanding across the state to assist more seniors.

“We’re the second oldest state in the country, and there’s a huge need here,” said program manager Michele Lapierre. 

There are currently 80 senior companions in the program. The average age is in the 70s, though some companions are in their 90s. 

“Companion recruitment is challenging. To become a companion, you need to meet income eligibility, be over 55, have a vehicle and insurance, and be able to be a companion for at least 10 hours per week. We do background checks and every companion is fully vetted,” Lapierre said. “They are in the homes of very frail individuals.”

Companions perform three main functions for their senior visitees:

  • Companionship, such as playing cards, watching movies together or chatting. 
  • Transportation, such as driving a senior to the grocery store, pharmacy or senior center. The program is not specifically a transportation agency, but companions will offer occasional driving services.
  • Respite for caregivers. For example, a husband may have dementia and a companion can spend a few hours with him so his wife can run errands or have a break. 

There is no cost for seniors to participate in the companion program. Due to its popularity, there is currently a six-month waiting list. The average visitee is 90-years-old. Lapierre is working on additional state and federal grants to expand the program. 

She says the feedback from companions has been overwhelmingly positive. 

Richard, a 90-year-old companion, wrote a letter to encourage his fellow seniors to take part: “We have people in dire need of companionship. We need people who are willing to go out of their way to take homebound seniors shopping, to doctor appointments, or have a recreation-like lunch at a restaurant or senior center. There are so many activities we do and we are always meeting new friends. I go to bed every night thanking God for the opportunity given to me to be a part of their lives,” he said.

Companions receive a stipend of $2.65 per hour, which does not interfere with  government assistance, Lapierre said. Mileage to and from a senior’s home is also reimbursed. Companions get together monthly to discuss their caseload and share ways to improve the lives of visitees, such as getting them onto the Meals on Wheels program, if needed. 

“The consistent feedback I receive from companions is that participating has extended their own longevity,” Lapierre said.  

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