As Angela Cox was preparing for her daughter’s wedding near their home in Las Vegas, she began to worry about her aunt, who was flying in for the big day from Washington.
The aunt was recovering from a long illness and was relying on a wheelchair and walker to get around. Helping her out in the days leading up to the wedding was easy enough, but for the event itself, Cox was at a loss, because every member of the family had a role in the ceremony.
"There was nobody that could give her the 100% attention she needed," she said.
Some of Cox’s friends told her of a home health-care service, BrightStar Care of Las Vegas, that they had used for visiting relatives who needed a boost. Cox called, and the service sent an aide who was able to assist her aunt during the wedding and the reception in getting around, carrying food, and using the lavatory.
It put the family’s mind at ease. “Nobody really even noticed the caregiver,” Cox says. “She was dressed in nice black slacks and a nice top.”
Bryan Hall suffered a spinal cord injury about three years ago that left him paralyzed from the chest down, with use of his arms but not his hands. He missed traveling solo, so last year he booked a trip to Las Vegas from his home in Grants Pass, Ore.
He had the option of bringing an aide from home with him, but it would have been expensive to pay for the caregiver’s flight, hotel, meals, and more. Plus, he needed help only in the morning to get going and in the evening to get ready for bed, and he’d be just fine during the day.
So he called around to see about finding a home health-care worker willing to come to his hotel and, like Cox, found BrightStar Care.
“It was a little scary the first time,” he says. “I flew down by myself. I wasn’t sure if anybody was going to show up.” But, reliably, the aide showed up, and the trip went smoothly — so much so that Hall has since been back seven or eight times, either traveling solo or meeting up with his 14-year-old grandson.
“The more you can do yourself, the better,” he says. “A trip by yourself — it’s kind of nice.”
BrightStar Care is a national company with a handful of franchises in the Philadelphia area — Bensalem, Bethlehem, Doylestown, Eaglesville, and Wayne in Pennsylvania and Maple Shade in New Jersey.
Deep Mukherjee, owner of the BrightStar Care franchise in Bensalem, said his agency has been offering what it calls concierge health care services for travelers for about two years. He sees the market as wealthy, high-profile travelers from the United States and abroad.
BrightStar can supply people who accompany travelers on their flights from this region or meet them when this is their destination. Skilled nursing costs up to $100 an hour. Travelers would pay a certified nursing assistant a third of that, Mukherjee said. Some clients have traveled with multiple helpers.
Mukherjee said each franchise makes its own rules about which services it provides.
As our aging population faces health and mobility challenges — 6 in 10 have a chronic disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — more people may benefit from a helping hand on the road. Becky Torrez, who owns BrightStar Care of Las Vegas, says she enjoys being able to help travelers, and wants people to know they have options for getting assistance.
"I think that a lot of people think, ’I’m sick, so I can’t go,’ or, ’I’m in a wheelchair, so I can’t go.’ And I think that the lesson in all this is you can do a lot; it just takes preparation and thinking ahead," Torrez says.
Nikki Magyar, who is president and owner of Right at Home Orlando in Florida, also offers assistance to travelers and is eager to support visitors. "I want to take care of you, whether it’s short-term or long-term," she says. "We want to help anybody."
Torrez and Magyar shared the following advice for travelers, whether they’re accompanying someone who needs assistance or they’re traveling by themselves and could use a helping hand.
Don’t be shy about asking for assistance. Magyar says she’ll receive calls for all kinds of requests. Often, she’ll speak with the adult children of 80- or 90-somethings who are planning what they think is their parent’s last trip to Walt Disney World, and they need a little extra support. ("Interestingly enough, a lot of people who think it’s their last trip actually come again and again, which is nice," she says.)
She’ll connect them with an attendant who can help them through the park all day and assist them with tasks like using the bathroom.
Torrez gets calls for a whole host of reasons: helping someone get bathed and ready for bed or ready for the day; providing assistance in instances where someone became ill or got injured while in town; acting as a companion to take a solo traveler in a wheelchair to shows and help him through the buffet line. “We have done everything,” she says.
If you’re looking for support from a home health aide or nurse away from home, be patient — and persistent. Not every agency works with travelers.
When Hall was planning his trip to Las Vegas, he says he was initially turned away by a few organizations. “Most places I called wanted a consistent thing — three days a week, five days a week. They don’t want someone just to show up every couple or six months,” he says.
Torrez and Magyar also said that many of their competitors aren’t interested in short-term relationships, as with travelers. But they may be able to refer you to an agency in the area that is willing to help. When searching online, try entering search terms such as "visiting [name of city]" and "home health aide"; or "vacation" and "caregiver assistance" and "[name of city].”
When making plans, call ahead to the hotel. “Handicap-accessible” can have different meanings in different places. “Some really have just a toilet that’s different. Some have the whole shower that’s different,” Magyar says.
Adds Torrez: “If you’re staying in a big hotel on the [Las Vegas] Strip, it’s going to be fine. But if you’re staying at a little boutique hotel, it’s going to say handicap-accessible but it may not be what you’re envisioning.”
Both agree that it’s best to speak with the front desk in advance of the trip and ask what the rooms provide and whether they have any items you might need, such as a shower chair.
When traveling with someone who needs assistance, be proactive and ask lots of questions. Whether you’re traveling with your parents, a friend, or a relative who needs a little extra support, it’s important to have a frank discussion before the trip about what their expectations and abilities are and what your expectations are.
“I think a lot of adult children don’t really know what’s going on with their parent a hundred percent,” Magyar says. She recommends asking open-ended questions to understand what they’ll need. “I try not to do the yes or no questions, because I find that people in general want to please,” she says.
Rather, she suggests questions such as: What is your routine? When do you nap? What do you eat for breakfast? When do you go to bed? How much walking can you do? By asking these questions, you can minimize surprises and obstacles and plan a trip that can be enjoyable for all.
"Because imagine if somebody has a stroke or couldn’t talk, you’re with them and you have no idea what [medications] they’re on," Torrez says.
Take a deep breath. After you’ve considered everything you might need away from home and made arrangements, sit back and embrace the anticipation.
"It’s something to look forward to and not to get too nervous about. Be as lighthearted as you can and try to make the best of those moments that you still have," Magyar says. "It’s going to be a good experience overall, even if things go awry here and there. Those vacations make memories that last forever."
The ways people travel will inevitably transform as their age and abilities change. But there are people out there who are ready and willing to assist. It just takes a little planning, and the ability to ask for it.
"I think it’s such a need," Torrez says. "I just know that I don’t want to slow down in life because I need a little extra help."