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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 15, 2006

Proxies hired to monitor patients warm hands, skeptical eye

By Emilia Askari
Detroit Free Press

Pamela Lazar, left, is visited by Bedside Notes employee Teresa Ridley at Cambridge South nursing home in Beverly Hills, Mich.. One of Lazar's daughters, who lives in New York City, hired Bedside Notes to watch over her condition and care, and keep her company.

AMY LEANG | Detroit Free Press

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Sharon White was eight months pregnant and packing for a business trip to California when her father-in-law went into the hospital with congestive heart failure.

"It was tough and exhausting," said White, 35, a projects manager from Rochester Hills, Mich. "My mother-in-law was killing herself trying to be at the hospital all day. My husband and I wanted to help. But we had jobs, things we couldn't rearrange, and we were on the brink of having a baby."

That's when inspiration struck.

Wouldn't it be great if you could hire someone to be at the hospital in your place? Someone who would be there when the doctors made their morning rounds? Someone to ask questions and take careful notes? Someone to make sure that nothing goes wrong?

A couple of years later, in 2005, White opened such a business. It's called Bedside Notes, and it has been such a success that White may expand to Florida next year and Arizona the year after.

There are plenty of home healthcare providers. But White believes no other company sends people to visit your relatives in nursing homes, hospitals or assisted living centers, checking to make sure that those institutions are doing their jobs and reporting back to you in detail about the moods and medical status of the patients.

"We feel that if your relative is visited, they get better care," White said.

Several trends are creating a market for her services, White said. People are living longer, requiring more institutional care near the end of their lives, and families are scattered. A July 2001 study sponsored by MetLife Mature Market Institute and Pfizer Inc. found that in one in four American households, someone at some point would have responsibility for caring for an ill or older adult. The study also reported that 40 percent of those caregivers would be busy raising their own children, and two-thirds would also be working, mostly full time.

White charges $25 an hour for hospital visits with a two-hour minimum, and $15 for a 15-minute drop-in at a nursing home or assisted living center.

She spent tens of thousands of dollars on attorney fees to devise a contract that allows her employees to gather information from doctors on behalf of absent family members.

White started selling her services mainly by word of mouth, dropping off flyers at nursing homes and with social workers at hospitals.

Now she is gearing up for a more serious marketing campaign. She is talking with an advertising firm and visiting people who run employee assistance programs at major corporations.

She won't say how many clients Bedside Notes has had or how much it has earned. But she is pleased with its growth and potential. Her plan is to begin selling franchises in a couple of years.

Jillian Lazar, 31, a New York City attorney, is a satisfied customer. Her mother, Pam Lazar, has multiple sclerosis and is in a Detroit-area nursing home.

One day a few weeks ago, Bedside Notes' Teresa Ridley found Pam Lazar unconscious. She alerted the nursing home staff, who sent the elder Lazar to the hospital.

"Who knows what would have happened if Teresa hadn't gone in when she did?" said Jillian Lazar, whom Ridley notified immediately. "It was simultaneously comforting and appalling. I was glad that if I couldn't be there and my sister was at work, that somebody else was there."

On a recent visit, Ridley chatted about soap operas, asked a nursing home employee to fix a phone jack and wiped the sweat from Pam Lazar's forehead.

"I think of her as a good friend," Pam Lazar said.

Jillian Lazar is grateful. "It's been so important to us, knowing there's another set of eyes and ears not only checking on the facility, but also checking on our mom and making sure that her spirits are good," she said.

Learn more: www.bedsidenotes.com