90-year-old caregiver among nation’s best
On an average day, 90-year-old Mary Hartsock wakes up around 5 a.m. and works up to eight hours as a caregiver.
She began her career working for the in-home care company Right at Home at the age of 79, when most of her peers were either already retired or retiring. She currently works for the branch of the company in Frederick, Md.
In her 11 years with Right at Home, Hartsock has never been tardy or missed a day of work, the company said.
“I certainly keep on the go,” Hartsock said modestly. She also stays active by volunteering with the AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary, serving on the administrative board of her church, and giving time to a local service club.
“Her integrity is impeccable, and her work ethic is relentless, especially with housekeeping tasks,” raved Right at Home’s community relations associate Linda Luber. “She will work just about any shift to accommodate someone, and she even helps with administrative tasks in the office.”
For her commitment to her clients, Hartsock was named Right at Home’s National Caregiver of the Year. She also recently travelled to Kansas City, Mo., to accept the Caregiver of the Year award from the Home Care Association of America.
Despite her appreciation at being recognized, Hartsock’s motivation comes from a different source. “I thought it would be rewarding if I could do something for somebody that would help them. You find a lot of elderly people really need the help,” she said.
A lifetime of hard work
Hartsock’s dedication to hard work may have been influenced by her early life on her family farm in Romney, W.V. Most mornings, she rose early to help her family with their work, milking cows and taking care of their livestock.
“I’ve worked most of my life,” said Hartsock.
She entered the job market at the age of 16, picking strawberries at another farm. She then moved to a job working at a factory making yarn. At 18, she moved to Frederick to find better job opportunities.
Eventually, Hartsock worked a variety of jobs, including one that made a lasting impression on her. For 28 years, she worked at the now-closed Francis Scott Key Hotel as a waitress, cocktail server, bar manager and, eventually, assistant hotel manager. It was there she discovered the value of learning to serve clients’ needs, she said.
Hartsock has one son and has been married twice.
A caregiver who cares
For her work with Right at Home, Hartsock regularly prepares her clients’ meals and assists them with household chores, such as bathing and other daily tasks. The work is often physically challenging, but Hartsock never shies away from a task that her clients need done.
“I go into their apartment and prepare their meals, starting with breakfast and on through lunch, which is usual on a day shift. I do some cleaning. I always make their bed if they’re up,” she said.
The majority of Hartsock’s clients have been younger than she. But she currently works with a man who is 89, “the oldest I’ve worked with,” she said.
Their similar ages can give rise to some shared humor. “He actually makes a big joke of things. When I come by, he’ll say, ‘Made it over the weekend, didn’t we?’” Hartsock laughed.
She also finds that being close in age to her patients can be beneficial to their relationship because their common ground helps her stay attuned to their unique needs, she said.
Her first step is getting to know her clients. “The first day…I sit beside them and try to find out every little need that they have. I learn all about the person,” she explained. “How much cream do you want in your coffee? Have you eaten breakfast? Or do you take your bath first?”
Advice for a long, healthy life
Hartsock has strong feelings about what steps older adults need to take in order to stay healthy.
“Seniors need to get away and get out of their homes. Two thirds of them are going to sit around and watch television. They’re not exercising and not moving around.
“I don’t sit around and watch TV. I wouldn’t dare do that,” she said.
Waking up early is a habit of hers, and Hartsock highly recommends it to those looking to be more active. “I’ve always been an early riser. I’m getting ready to go to work, or doing work in my own home.”
If she’s not doing chores at home, she’s shopping or doing volunteer work. “When I get my work finished, I go somewhere,” she said. “I do keep very busy.”
Her advice to other seniors is to “get going someplace. You need to move, you need to walk. You need to do anything to exercise,” she said.
“Someone who’s not in as good health as I am might not be able to do [what I do]. But…you can do a lot of exercising in your own home. You don’t need to join any of the exercise places. You can stand up, swing your feet, your legs and your arms.
“Exercise to me is sometimes better than medicine. At least, I have a lot of faith in it.”