There is no doubt Joe Hernandez has a challenging client, but the award-winning CAREGiver loves a challenge, loves his client and loves his client's family.
"I am part of the family. They have told me, 'Please don't leave us,' " said Joe, the CAREGiver of the Month for Home Instead Senior Care® of Victoria who lives in Port Lavaca and joined the franchise Aug. 15, 2013, after working in two other senior-care jobs including one in which he was a CNA in a nursing home.
Joe's 60-year-old client had been the long-time patriarch of a farming operation. The client was diagnosed with Early-Onset Alzheimer's disease at age 55, and his physical and emotional health predictably has continued to decline. "The doctors said my client had the classic 'A' Triad of impairment to vision (agnosia), speech (aphasia) and motor skills (apraxia)," Joe explained. "He had been the classic tough kind of 'man's-man,' a farmer-rancher who could do anything, a Superman who weighed 250 pounds at one time but is down to about 150 pounds.
"The combined effect of the 'A' Triad can lead to emotional problems, such as anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, frustrations or irritability, anger, aggression or violence, pacing, restlessness and maybe wandering. It is no secret that this is what is happening to my client, especially when he feels a need isn't being addressed. There is no doubt that you must be on your toes at all times because of his unpredictability, but I don't take anything personally with him," Joe said.
"His wife always says: 'That's not my husband. Alzheimer's disease has him, but I still have an obligation to him.' They do not want to place him in a nursing home, and I concur. His interests are best served with one-on-one help so that he can remain in his home."
There's no doubt, Joe said, that his client can be a tough cookie. "I approach his situation by trying to project a positive, warm spirit. I can get him to sit quietly, and his family is stunned when this happens. I wouldn't be able to do this in a nursing home, only one-on-one in a client's home where I'd have the chance to work with the client slowly and patiently.
"I've gotten him to say things like, 'need water' and 'no more food,' and I've held onto those things preciously and continue to work with him to develop more words. His wife and daughter say he will call for me when I am gone: 'Joe, Joe.' For us, that is a big deal because he seems to have forgotten his wife," Joe added.
"My priority is his health and safety. I want to get him stronger and to eat more. I use music from my laptop to get him to settle down. When that happens, I receive a quiet voice from him. If he were at a nursing home, they would keep him medicated and turn him into a zombie 24/7."
After nine months with the client and his family, Joe feels a loyalty and devotion to them. "I do what I've got to do to help the client and the family," Joe said, "and getting the client calm relaxes the family. I have earned their total trust. I want to be an asset to the family. Whether that is taking him for walks or drives or whatever helps him, I'll do it gladly. I also help them as a handyman who can fix things, and I take care of clutter and organize the home to make it better for them. I enjoy working with them."
How did a career truck driver who grew up in Bay City find his way to Home Instead Senior Care in Victoria as one of the franchise's original CAREGivers?
"I had been doing that job for a long time, and I was tired of it. The road isn't nearly as safe as it has been. I moved to Port Lavaca about three years ago and changed my career path," he said. "I was doing an internet search for the most needed jobs, and health care and senior care came up near the top, so I pursued that field.
"I worked in a nursing home and in private duty; ultimately, after talking to others in town, I heard a lot of good things about Home Instead. When I went in for the interview, owner Stephanie Niles and I just clicked. I liked the motto of 'To us, it's personal,' and I saw that it was true for this company. I am working for a great company. It is a fantastic idea to work with people to keep them in their homes."
Helping people, Joe said, is his bottom line. "The Golden Rule is my No. 1 thing. I try to treat everyone as if they are a friend in need – that is my motivation. A person should not do this job if he or she just wants to collect a paycheck. Clients are important, plus you have the added responsibility of relieving their families of worry and stress. I also take pride in what I do. If I don't have high standards and expectations for myself, what do I have?" he noted.
"This is what I want to do, be a CAREGiver. In addition to bird watching and my music collection, there's no other thing I'd rather do than help seniors. I remember when the office called and asked if I need a break from my client. They told me, 'We don't want you to get burned out.' I told them, 'No, I am fine with this assignment because I have grown to love the client and his family, and want the best for them.' "
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