Bittersweet Effort: Senior HomeCare owner honors mom by taking care of others

Tina Gillette, above, parlayed her knowledge from caring for her mother into Senior HomeCare of Tucson, which offers a variety of services to the elderly. (Tina Gillette/Submitted)

By Laura Latzko

Caregiving is personal for Tina Gillette of Senior HomeCare of Tucson.

She was schooled in hospice when her mother was visited by a nurse twice weekly. Still, the caregiving largely fell on Gillette and her sister.

She had two small children at the time, but with the help of her husband and his family she could care for her mom. It was challenging but rewarding at the same time because she could sit with her mother.

She parlayed her knowledge into Senior HomeCare of Tucson 10 years ago after working as a medical transcriber, an office manager for a sports medicine clinic and an admin for an orthopedic surgeon.

Caregivers provide a range of services, including assisting with bathing, showering or visiting the restroom; going to doctors’ appointments or the store; taking care of skin or oral needs; housekeeping; preparing meals and caring for pets. They also provide respite breaks for family members caring for their loved ones.

The level of care needed can range from 12 hours a week to 24 hours a day.

“It has been an honor to serve people in the proper fashion and to be able to provide trained caregivers that always want to do their best for the agency,” Gillette says.

Based in Oro Valley, Senior HomeCare of Tucson serves Tucson, Sun City Oro Valley, Marana, Casas Adobes, Catalina, Dove Mountain, SaddleBrooke, the Catalina Foothills, Rancho Vistoso and Sabino Canyon.

“This is a business that started in a 10-by-10 room in my home,” she says. “It’s woman-owned and has been for 10 years. I grew it from the ground up, with no help from a franchise.”

Three years ago, the company was a finalist in the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona’s Torch Awards. In 2018, they were named Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year and were honored as one of the finalists in the outstanding senior care/hospice category at the Influential Health and Medical Leaders Awards.

Gillette is a member of two national organizations that provide guidelines for caregiving businesses, the Homecare Association of America and the Independent Home Care Alliance.

When Gillette founded the business, it was important to align with reputable national caregiving organizations because ethics are important to her.

Gillette will often share information with families about available resources, such as government programs that provide assistance for equipment or supplies.

The company works with clients in different living situations, including those who reside in their own homes or in independent, assisted-living or hospice facilities.

Many senior clients have family members who live out of the area. Gillette says in this type of situation, it is important to keep their families informed on their care.

Senior HomeCare of Tucson makes caregivers feel involved and invested in clients’ care. (Senior HomeCare of Tucson/Submitted)

“We pride ourselves on communication with the families,” she says. “We are in constant communication with family members. We send notes for them on the clients.”

Gillette learned firsthand the mental, emotional and physical toll of caregiving and the need for self-care.

“You have to make sure you receive adequate rest and relief from others, otherwise you will not be able to give your all to that person,” Gillette says.

Being able to be there for her mother during her last few months was meaningful for Gillette. She says, while this stage is often emotional, it is an important to celebrate their lives and accomplishments.

Gillette says this can be a time for families to share and have heart-to-heart talks with each other.

“Your words may be their last, so always express what you feel,” Gillette advises.

Within her company, Gillette ensures that her caregivers feel involved and invested in clients’ care.

Caregivers have expressed that they like the family-like feel of working for a more personal, locally owned business, she says.

“We really do place our employees’ needs first. The respect from the caregivers has been everything. It’s important to me that the caregivers feel valued, respected, wanted, all of the above,” Gillette says.

Gillette stresses that families need to be involved in choosing their caregivers. She says they should vet the agencies with which they are working.

It is important to inquire about the caregivers: if they’re employees or contractors; if they’re drug and background tested; if they’re fingerprinted and have been trained.

“Those things make a huge difference on the type of care that you are going to have for your loved ones,” Gillette says.

In her company, caregivers are trained in helping clients with daily activities and providing special care for hospice or disabled patients. They also learn caregiver ethics and best practices.

Gillette engages her caregivers in different ways, including doing games and drawings each week. She says it is important to create a collaborative team environment, especially because her employees work remotely.

It takes a special type of person to be a caregiver. They must have empathy for others.

“Personality is absolutely crucial to the health of our seniors when you bring somebody in,” Gillette says.

“You have to make sure that their personalities match up, that they are pleasant to be around.”

Gillette has found that many caregivers develop special relationships with longtime clients — aiding them with organizing their closets; playing their favorite games and sometimes bringing them their favorite drinks or treats.

“Every single day, I’m amazed at my caregivers. We have a dashboard-style communication system at the office,” Gillette says.

“Oftentimes, I will read that and see the things that these caregivers do. Sometimes it’s hourly that I see a nice gesture, that someone has gone over and above what the core responsibilities are. That’s been amazing to witness.”

Senior HomeCare of Tucson

1171 E. Rancho Vistoso Boulevard, Suite 155, Oro Valley, 355-4787