Doug Allison spent 40 years as an educator, dedicating most of his life as a teacher in the Richland School District.
But nearly 20 years ago, his path took a different turn when he and his wife, Debbie, started Homewatch CareGivers of Central PA.
To say the Johnstown resident is passionate about the care of the elderly is an understatement. Start a conversation with Allison and you’ll hear the fervency in his voice. “I’ll get off my soapbox now,” he says. But he can’t seem to help himself. He firmly believes the older population is neglected, even abused, by a system that no longer values them.
“You can see what they did with our seniors during COVID-19,” he says.
“All the special-interest groups have advocacy groups – except for seniors. Nobody puts Mom and Dad first.”
Homewatch CareGivers is a family owned and operated caregiving agency that serves the elderly and physically disabled. Employees work with clients in their homes, providing what Allison calls that “warm and fuzzy feeling.”
Caregivers handle just about anything non-medical and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Families can decide on round-the-clock care or request assistance for an hour or two a week.
“We can help with prescriptions, personal grooming, getting in and out of bed and the shower, do errands like grocery shopping or take them to doctor visits,” Allison says.
“We are often needed after surgery or a procedure such as a colonoscopy if they do not have anyone to drive them home.”
Allison says one of the more frequent requests is for respite care. “We can give the main caregiver a break,” he says. “Perhaps it’s so they can go meet friends every week for card night or a round of golf.”
Many clients suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and Allison says his employees are trained and very sensitive to those types of concerns.
“A lot of connection is made between the caregiver and the client,” he says.
“Not only do they have issues, some do not have anyone else to take care of them and that bond with the caregivers is pretty essential because of their loneliness and isolation.”
Since care includes just about anything non-medical, the clients often look forward to their time with their caregiver, Allison says. The one-on-one time might include playing games together or looking through a box of old photographs the client hadn’t been able to get to for years.
“We can do things that they want to do as well as those things they need,” Allison says.
Allison has offices in Johnstown and State College and has between 40 and 45 employees, a dozen or more who have been with the company for 10 or more years.
Nicole Damian says Homewatch CareGivers is the best agency for which she has ever worked.
“They value family,” she says. “I am a single mother and they always worked with me to have time with my daughter.”
Allison says finding good caregivers is one of his biggest challenges. “We can’t compete with the hour and wage law.”
His other big challenge is overcoming government regulations.
Allison and his wife are both graduates of Richland High School and The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. It was Debbie, who was employed by Lee Hospital for 27 years, who first became interested in providing home care to seniors. Doug’s experience with his father helped solidify their commitment to helping seniors remain at home and age in place.
They believe the best nursing home is your own.
“There is no place like home,” Allison says. “Or would you rather be part of an institution?
“When you go to a nursing home, you give up all your rights. You can’t decide what you are going to eat or when you are going to eat. You wait until someone is ready to give you a shower.”
Allison recalls meeting with 12 staffers of a nursing home where his 85-year-old father was taken following a medical crisis.
“Everyone was talking about him while he was there, but no one was talking to him,” he says.
“He looked at me and I told him, ‘If you want to go home, we’re going home.’”
He made a promise to his father. “‘If you have to go (back) to a nursing home, you won’t know it,’” he told him.
Allison made provisions for his father to stay at home. “He lived four more years,” he says.
The businessman has other success stories to share.
“When we first started this business, we ran into a business owner who was in the fetal position at the hospital.
“We went in and all four of his kids were around him. They said, ‘We want Dad to die at home.’
“I told them we’d work with them and get him home. The thought was he would only be there no more than a month. He was totally out of it.
“We got him home and we took him off all the drugs they were giving him to help with behavior.”
Allison says the client, a former bar owner who loved his beer, soon became alert. “He told the caregiver to get him a six-pack.”
The caregiver, aware that beer might not be the best thing for him, went out and got him a non-alcoholic six-pack.
“She told him it was a brand new beer that he was really going to love,” Allison says.
“He lived three more years, drinking that brand new beer. He was eating, talking, watching his television shows."