By Erika Webb
Recently a family visited Corey Shenk at Aging Tree. A son, a daughter and their elderly mother were looking for guidance in the overwhelming world of senior care.
After being discharged from the hospital, their mother concluded assisted living might be best for her. Daughter and son were relieved, but they didn't know what to do next.
Mr. Shenk sat down with the family, went over available options and looked at necessary expenditures before narrowing the search to five local facilities that would best meet their mother's needs.
He put them in touch with an elder law attorney, a private duty nurse for interim care and a real estate agent who would assess their mother's home for resale. The house needed electrical repairs before it could be listed, so Mr. Shenk referred an Aging Tree member business, a licensed electrician.
"We boxed everything so they didn't have to search these things out," Mr. Shenk said. "It expedited the process for them."
Decades of delivering medical equipment and supplies proved to Mr. Shenk and his staff at Vienna Medical that seniors needed more.
So he conceptualized then developed Aging Tree, a complete aging resource center where families can access information, products and services in one location.
It literally grew out of Vienna Medical -- now housed at Aging Tree -- which specializes in medical equipment, oxygen and sleep therapy products commonly associated with Medicare and other private insurance plans.
"We noticed that people would come to us asking for referrals or advice about all sorts of home-related or geriatric services -- everything from household help to assisted living communities," Mr. Shenk said. "It's like we became the reliable link to what they were looking for. We decided there was a definite need for a sort of liaison, so we created Aging Tree."
While Mr. Shenk had plenty of professional experience -- in sales and marketing of home health care products and services as well as licensure in assisted living administration -- his most valuable asset may have come from the personal side of his life.
"My grandmother had Alzheimer's 20 years ago," Mr. Shenk said. "My brother and I had to take care of her and make decisions for our grandparents. As we went through the process, we thought we could do a little better."
Better than what was available to them.
"I wish I had me when I was going through it," he said. "Having a resource center would have solved so many problems, saved so much money and so much time."
Providing a veritable package of resources to make life easier for everyone involved was one way. Screening those resources for clients and their family members to ensure honest, above-board business practices was another. Compassion seems to come naturally to Mr. Shenk and that permeates the environment at Aging Tree.
To the last decorative detail, a calm, soothing atmosphere greets people as they enter.
"We wanted it to be nice and calming, to feel open. We wanted them to be able to see everything so that within five seconds they got the idea that, wow, everything is here," Mr. Shenk said.
He listed the top three challenges for seniors: access to information, unscrupulous business practices and not understanding all of the simple things that can help.
"Health care is changing under our feet," Mr. Shenk said. "From inside the industry we've seen things changing slowly but surely. Benefits are changing for patients and they don't know what's coming. Aging Tree was designed, with consolidation as the basis, to make things easier; we're finding the best way to change with health care and providing the solution."
The website and Aging Tree's office provide information on everything from Florida nursing homes and assisted living facilities, to Florida elder law, estate sales, medical equipment, senior financial advocacy, and beyond.
Mr. Shenk noted people often are not savvy about their insurance, Medicaid, filing and other related matters, and he said Vienna's hands-on help with this leg of medical supply service set the company apart. Now, a SHINE representative visits Aging Tree regularly to give people free, unbiased insurance assistance.
"Often their families are far away; and as they see their independence diminishing, they may realize they need help in many areas," Mr. Shenk explained. "What they're lacking is someone to help sort out what's available to them, what they need and where to get it."
The Aging Tree staff recognizes the process is very difficult for loved ones as well.
"Often it's the family who needs that same assistance, since they're concerned but too far away to be proactive in arranging services," he added.
Mr. Shenk's primary goal was to make resources accessible, which generated the idea of promoting other area businesses he knew could be trusted.
"Senior-living and senior care is not something one is educated about because they never have to be until they need it," he said. "Then you get a quick education, usually following an event. A lot of times people make bad decisions because they have to get educated quickly and that's how seniors get taken advantage of."
Member businesses receive essential information, tools and education in addition to networking opportunities, support and advocacy to maximize their ability to serve Florida seniors. Members will have the availability to participate in:
Quarterly Health Fairs
Be listed in all print advertisements such as magazines and newspapers
Free online listing within the appropriate category
Brochure placement in resource center
Use of the "Health Care Trusted Quality" seal
Use the conference center as needed including conference room, fax, copy machine and common use areas.
Have the option of participating in further advertising options.
They are held to a high standard.
"If I don't hold a high standard we lose value in the standard," Mr. Shenk said.
And as trees will do, this one's growing.
Underway is a cancer survivor center with resources and support for anyone going through cancer treatment.
The idea is continued evolving as needs and resources arise, Mr. Shenk said.
The Aging Tree is at 985 Harley Strickland Blvd., Suite 100, in Orange City. Call (386) 774-2446; email email@example.com; or visit online www.agingtree.com.