New Blaine business provides in-home care, safety inspections

Brian McDonald knows the time it takes to be a caregiver. He was one of many family members who cared for his brother-in-law during his 22-month battle with brain cancer.

Kelly Ketchum died when he was just 39 years old Oct. 17, 2003. Ten years later, McDonald opened a new SYNERGY HomeCare office in Blaine to help others care for family members whether they be young children or senior citizens who have a medical condition or may be recovering from surgery or cancer treatments.

Brian McDonald, owner of the new SYNERGY HomeCare Northeast Metro office in Blaine, shows Rita Olson how a rug on carpet can bunch up and be a fall hazard for someone who shuffles their feet. This was actually not Olson’s rug and Olson’s apartment unit at Cloverleaf Courts in Blaine is very safe as McDonald discovered during a complimentary fall hazard safety inspection. Photo by Eric Hagen

Brian McDonald, owner of the new SYNERGY HomeCare Northeast Metro office in Blaine, shows Rita Olson how a rug on carpet can bunch up and be a fall hazard for someone who shuffles their feet. This was actually not Olson’s rug and Olson’s apartment unit at Cloverleaf Courts in Blaine is very safe as McDonald discovered during a complimentary fall hazard safety inspection. Photo by Eric Hagen

“It seems like I have been preparing my whole life for it given the fact that I went to medical school so I understand medicine, given the fact that I worked with Medtronic we dealt with pacemakers and defibrillators that helped keep people alive…” McDonald said.

SYNERGY has no nurses or doctors, but its caregivers can do light housekeeping, meal planning and preparation, provide transportation, medication reminders and help with various other personal care issues.

The new SYNERGY HomeCare Northeast Metro office is the sixth in the metro are and serves cities as close as Blaine, Andover and Coon Rapids, and as far away as Forest Lake, North Branch and Oakdale. Caregivers are available 24 hours a day by calling SYNERGY’s phone number at 1-877-230-4849.

A unique aspect of this business, McDonald said, is that they visit homes of senior citizens for free to see if there are fall hazards. According to SYNERGY, an older adult is treated in an emergency room for a fall every 15 seconds and every 29 minutes, an older adult dies following a fall. Falls are the number one cause of injuries, hospital visits and death among those 65 years old and older.

During a scheduled Nov. 8 inspection of Rita Olson’s apartment at Cloverleaf Courts in Blaine, she told McDonald how a woman earlier that day had tripped over a walker and got hot coffee on her face.

According to Olson, she has known others who have fallen, including her late husband who had slipped on ice in the driveway and in the kitchen at their old home when he was taking a fish oil pill.

Olson’s apartment was already very safe from fall hazards when McDonald stopped by for the complimentary inspection.

She makes sure to have wide walking paths in her living room because she once tripped over the feet of a chair she still has. The fall tore tendons in her right shoulder and she still has trouble lifting it. She made sure her wires were not lying loose on the floor. She places her cat’s food and water bowls snuggly against the wall. She has no rugs on her carpet, which McDonald said can bunch up and be easier to trip on for people who shuffle their feet or have a walker.

Olson has mats on her bathroom floor, but McDonald attached some adhesive to the bottom so they would be firm against the floor and not roll up.

McDonald said if somebody feels medication is making them dizzy, they should consult their doctor. Regular exercise no matter how simple and a healthy diet can also reduce the likelihood of falling, he said.

Olson has only been at Cloverleaf Courts for four months and is already looking to set up a hallway golf tournament.

She was appreciative of the complimentary inspection and can see how it would help senior citizens, Olson said.

“It’s wonderful,” she said. “It keeps your mind open for things you did and are doing.”

From engineer to caregiver

McDonald previously worked at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for five years. He was on the team that designed the assembly sequence for the International Space Station.

Although he had a solid career going as an engineer, McDonald “had a burning desire to help people” and he felt being a doctor was the best profession to meet his goal. As the debt piled up though, he left medical school and went back to aerospace engineering and was hired by Motorola to work on its Iridium satellite phone program in Arizona. It launched 72 satellites in 12 months.

His brother-in-law found out he had a brain tumor in January 2002 and McDonald helped the family as much as he could up until Ketchum died Oct. 17, 2003.

In 2004, McDonald moved to Minnesota to put his knowledge of engineering and medicine together and design pacemakers and defibrillators for Medtronic. Although he was making a difference, he wanted to meet the people he was helping.

At 6:41 a.m. Oct. 17, 2012, McDonald sent an email to Peter Torian, who founded SYNERGY HomeCare in Mesa, Ariz., and who McDonald knew through a friend, to share his wish of opening a SYNERGY office in the north metro of the Twin Cities. He was not aware at the time that this email was sent less than an hour before the exact time his brother-in-law had died nine years before, but he later took that as a sign that opening this SYNERGY HomeCare office in Blaine was meant to be and held a private ribbon cutting ceremony Oct. 17.

Although SYNERGY can offer non-medical in-home care for people of any age, seniors will be heavy users because data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Minnesota State Demographic Center indicate that by 2020, for the first time in Minnesota history, there will be more people over the age of 65 than of school-age.

This means many families will be grappling with how to care for their loved ones while trying to allow them to live independently as long as possible.

“I tell my caregivers every single day you go into a home you are making a difference for that person,” McDonald said.

The new SYNERGY HomeCare office is located in the 21st Century Bank building at 9380 Central Ave. NE, Suite 310, in Blaine. Call 763-205-4440 or visit www.SynergyHomeCare.com for more information.

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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