By John Sammon
The similar backgrounds of Matt Mukoyama and Ray Liu; both worked in the high-tech industry and both cared for an elder relative, led them to fill a need in the San Francisco Bay area for a referral service connecting families to care-givers.
Founded in 2007, “1 + 1 Senior Care” also acts as a figurative shoulder to lean on for exhausted and stressed families trying to deal with the uncertainties of a loved one who needs nursing care.
“We are a care referral agency,” Mukoyama said. “We provide caregivers to help with the daily issues of people who need care, for example assisting in eating, bathing, or helping someone get to a rest room. We want people to rest assured their relative is being properly taken care of.”
Additional services provided could include reminders for people they need to have their medicines administered, transportation to a doctor, or light housekeeping for a shut-in senior to name a few.
“We serve the Peninsula and South Bay,” Liu said. “This started about 10 years ago. My dad got sick and had to move in with me. I took care of him and the experience opened my eyes. I saw a need for a service I thought I could provide and do well.”
Prior to his entry into the health care field, Liu had worked for a company as a project manager involved in mergers and acquisitions. There he worked alongside Mukoyama who was involved in the finance side of the business.
“Eight years ago I was helping take care of my grandmother,” Mukoyama said.
Mukoyama grew up in Santa Clara and Liu in Redwood City.
Mukoyama’s grandparents on his mother’s side were sent to a concentration camp in Rohwer, Arkansas, during World War II, suspected of disloyalty along with 115,000 other Japanese Americans living along the West Coast.
“My dad was living in the Midwest during this time, so he was not interned,” Mukoyama said.
Neither were Liu’s relatives subjected to deportation and imprisonment.
“That’s because I’m of Chinese descent,” he said.
Before the war Mukoyama’s grandfather James Matsumoto had been growing wine grapes from a vineyard in Lodi in California’s Central Valley.
“My father Wes has been an advocate for seniors and was also a director at Yu-Ai-Kai (Japanese American senior service center in San Jose),” Mukoyama said. “My dad was a social worker, and served in the Peace Corps in the 1960’s. He was a teacher and taught in the African country of Tanzania. He also served in Western Samoa, and I went there with him as a boy. My father was always a very community-service-minded type person.”
Liu’s father Shu is 90 years old, and spent his career as an electrical engineer.
Mukoyama and Liu got to know each other playing basketball as a hobby.
“We used to play all over the Bay Area, just pickup games,” Mukoyama said. “We talked about the need for better care for seniors based on our own experiences, and we thought we could do a good job of it. We both quit our jobs to start a care referral agency.”
When the company started there were only a handful of such care referral services available. Since then Mukoyama said the number in the Bay Area has mushroomed to 50 or more.
“When the economy went down (2007, 2008) I think there was a perception there was a lot of demand for care and so easy money could be made,” he said. “But people learned quickly this involves a lot of work. You have to make everyone happy.”
The key is to match just the right care-giver with the right recipient.
“That’s where our title, 1 + 1 comes from,” Liu said. “For example, we refer in-home care. We might send a caregiver to a person’s home. This could be a person who just came out of a hospital and needs 24-hour care for a period of weeks or months.”
Caregivers are carefully screened and interviewed before being assigned to a case including qualifications and background checks, proper insurance and licensing.
“It’s hard to find good caregivers and we filter out those who don’t qualify,” Mukoyama said. “You have to go through a lot to find a reliable, caring professional.”
Care needs can be adjusted based on a client’s condition, lighter care as a person recovers, or increased care as needed. Liu said the pair sometimes gets calls from people in a high state of anxiety and the goal is to calm them down and find out their needs.
“We’ll get calls from an emergency room and a woman will tell us, ‘my mom’s been discharged and I need help,’” he said. “We stay open 24 hours a day. We seek to be very flexible in meeting people’s needs, so we let them know there are options. It’s also important that the families of a person being cared for get a good night’s rest and so we say, ‘We’ll take care of it.’”
Some seeking the service are family members caring for a relative who simply need a break, a brief vacation, from providing for a loved one.
“They may be someone who wants to go out of town on a trip, they want a respite and they need someone to fill in for them,” Mukoyama said. “The families are in charge. They’re in the driver’s seat. They tell us what they need.”
One example of the service involved providing nursing care for a patient who had undergone delicate hip surgery and one of priorities was to make sure the man didn’t try to get out of bed and walk too soon, fall and damage his newly-repaired hip.
“Nursing homes sometimes don’t have enough staffers to provide all these services,” Mukoyama said.
The agency, noted for its reasonable rates, is currently searching for caregivers fluent in the Japanese language.
“There are not enough Japanese-speaking caregivers in the area,” Mukoyama said.
Liu and Mukoyama said the goal of 1 + 1 Senior Care is to provide peace of mind.
“Our message is that when you need care because something happened to a loved one, we want peace of mind to all involved,” Liu said. “We’re always asking families, how can we improve your situation?”