Recognition: Therapy is its own reward

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Randolph – Local Hero

By Domenick S. Reda

It often is a thankless job with little or no recognition, but the work performed by unpaid caregivers provides the life’s blood for the people who rely on them.

Those selfless workers have something they can count on: the assistance they get from the Morris County residents like Randolph’s Gregg Frank. He and hundreds of other members make up the Morris County Caregivers Coalition, put together by United Way’s Caregivers Coalition Special Events Committee.

Last month, Frank was among those who were recognized by the United Way of Morris County at its annual celebration in Whippany with its Live United Health Award.

Frank is an occupational therapist, and his wife, Karen Frank, is a physical therapist. They operate Randolph-based Back Home Safely, a company that modifies houses to make them livable for special-needs patients.

Back Home Safely helps the unpaid caregivers by assessing residences and customizing them according to individual needs to best accomplish safety and accessibility. With a team of construction remodeling professionals, alterations are made to enable those in need of care to remain home.

Some of the items built are wheelchair ramps, grab bars, stair rails, stair lifts, door widening, walk in bathtubs and bathroom modification.

Frank, 43, a resident of Randolph 35 years, uses his background in occupational therapy to help his clients.

“We bring part of what we do to train caregivers,” he said, adding that it is not only the patients who face challenges, but those who help them as well. “People forget about the caregivers.”

Frank said adapting the homes to fit those needs is the key. He also believes the efforts of the hundreds of coalition members — who are mostly caregivers and not professionals – are crucial.

“It’s a team approach,” he said. “It’s a real tight network. When we can all support each other, it ends up really being to the advantage of our clients.”

Making the residences home accessible also is an affordable alternative for many who want their loved ones to remain in their homes, rather than having to move to a nursing home.

Each year the Live United Health Award is presented to a group of volunteers who have used their time to address issues related to health. Kristin Coleman, manager of marketing and communications for the United Way of Morris County, said the program is geared toward finding resources for unpaid caregivers who are often taking care of elderly parents or kids with disabilities.

“These people are not able to get out very often,” she said. “They work as a team. It’s a large support group.”

Coleman said that, with his professional background, Frank has been able to provide even more assistance than most—something at which he never stops working.

Carol DeGraw, health community impact manager at the United Way, said the committee volunteers more than 200 hours per year.

“The time, commitment and energy that these volunteers have contributed are amazing,” she said. “The committee has provided hundreds of unpaid family caregivers in our community with the information and resources they need to assist them in their vital role. The coalition could not do the great work we do without the help from dedicated volunteers like the folks on our committee.”