When Joe Judge was 13 years old, he and his younger brother would catch three buses after school to travel to his paternal grandmother’s skilled nursing home. Joe would not only visit, but was involved in hands-on care of his bedbound grandmother, changing bedsheets and her clothes while checking for bedsores and other care issues.
“I was really close to Grandma and was with her often. Mom dropped me off when Grandma was in her own home, and Dad later stayed with her before she moved to the nursing home,” recalled Joe, now an honored Care Professional with Home Instead® of Itasca, Illinois. “Later, when she went to the nursing home, we were concerned about the consistency of her care. Many nursing homes have too many residents to try to take care of in an adequate way.”
Joe added: “Mom, who was working, would meet us later at the nursing home and take us home. We did that every weekday, and Mom took us over there on weekends. Grandma, whose final year of life was spent there, retained fluid on her legs, which made it difficult to stand or walk, but cancer ultimately caused her death.”
Joe had an outstanding role model for family caregiving. He still does.
His mother, Renee Schultz, had taken care of her own grandmother after she had suffered a debilitating stroke. In September 2017, Renee joined owner Kelly Hutchison’s award-winning Home Instead franchise as a second job. Renee was selected as the franchise’s Care Pro of the Month in August 2018 and then named as the Care Pro of the Year for 2018. Joe’s mother serves as the franchise’s Lead Care Pro. In that role, Renee develops other Care Pros, from skills to communication to problem-solving. Renee still is a part of the Care Pro team.
Joe joined the Home Instead franchise in December 2020 and was honored as the Care Pro of the Month for April 2022. Home Instead Staff Manager Jackie Washburn has been impressed with Joe’s service to his clients, and each one has bonded quickly with Joe and asks for his return.
Jackie said: “Joe has been working with a client who I had as a Care Pro before I went to work in the office. Every client is unique, but this client is unlike anyone else who we service – to my knowledge. The client is very dear to me, and I have always been very particular when it came to staffing his Care Pros. Joe has been by his side and has adapted to the client’s changing needs.”
Jackie added: “Joe’s title is ‘Care Professional,’ but he really does exemplify the name and gives care with his whole heart. Joe is the connection between his client and the office. His focus on the health, hygiene and safety of his clients is paramount. During our meeting, Joe informed us of his client’s changing needs and provided valuable input that allows us to continue providing the best care possible. He is such a valuable part of this team, and we are lucky to have him!”
A family member of one of Joe’s clients said simply, “Joe is an angel sent to us.” Another observer said: “All of Joe’s clients love him.” A new client, who has advanced Parkinson’s disease, mustered up enough energy to tell Joe at the end of their first day together: “I really enjoyed our time together.” Joe had to listen closely before he smiled broadly.
For eight months, Joe has been helping a client who has frontotemporal dementia, which has left him nonverbal, a condition called aphasia. “He lights up when he sees me. I understand him probably 99 percent of the time, at least I hope I do. A few times I just don’t know what he wants,” Joe explained. “It is the worst disease. He is losing function. I feed and bathe him. At first, I’d walk him to the shower. Now we do bed baths. He’s very bright, a former scientist.”
Speaking in general terms from his compassionate heart, Joe said: “A lot of people don’t understand the challenges that seniors face physically and emotionally. And some people simply don’t care about seniors. I absolutely love my clients and would do anything for them. They know that.”
There is a drawback to professional senior care, Joe pointed out. “The worst part of the job is losing a client. I was down and out when I recently lost a client, and I was glad when I got another one fairly quickly,” Joe said. The client died shortly after Joe returned to help him after Joe’s three-week caregiving absence. Joe explained: “I did not get COVID-19, but I had been exposed off and on to people who had it. I could not risk developing COVID-19 and then going to help clients and possibly passing it. The client who died did not want anyone other than me to help him. He experienced a medical episode while I was gone. He was in the hospital nine days, came home and passed away shortly after that.”
After the client died, his wife wrote a compelling message inside a thank-you card and sent it to the Home Instead office. She wanted the staff to forward the card to Joe. “The client and his family loved me. My first shift with the client was 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. The client requested me after that. I was with him for only three months, but the connection and bonding were so strong. Every client I’ve been with has been the same way. They like me immediately,” Joe said.
Joe’s weekdays are packed with caregiving shifts, but he saves his weekends for a hobby – he loves garage sales and flea markets. “I am always on the lookout for items such as video games and sports cards. I’ve been a Cubs fan even before they won the World Series (2016),” Joe said. During their time together, Joe and his mother “don’t really talk about caregiving issues.” But he said, “Sometimes something will happen where she gets emotional, and she tells me about it.”
Asked about what he foresees with Home Instead, he said: “It’s really good. I am not leaving any time soon unless there are unforeseen circumstances. My maternal grandmother lives with us and is still going strong. If she needed more of my time than I can give Home Instead, I would stay with her. I really enjoy what I do. As some people say, I’m not going to make a million dollars. But it is a fulfilling job.”