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Courtney Sargent, Deseret News
Elizabeth Walbom is president of a BrightStar Healthcare franchise in Utah that provides in-home health care and other services.

It's an all-too-familiar struggle for working parents in Utah: Finding child care when the little ones are sick.

Parents often have to take a sick or vacation day to care for a sick child, since most day-care centers refuse sick children for fear they will contaminate the other children. Elizabeth Walbom, a health-care attorney who has worked in Utah and Louisiana, was well aware of parents' dilemmas when she was approached by Chicago-based BrightStar Healthcare to open a franchise in Utah after the company saw her resume on CareerBuilder.com.

"We knew we wanted to do the business when we came across it," she said. "We felt there was a real need here, where people were falling through the cracks, especially people under the age of 65."

Walbom, with the help of her chiropractor husband, Justin, opened a franchise two months ago, employing about 30 registered nurses and nurse's aides who will travel to homes from Ogden to Payson to care for people of all ages — from children to elderly, sick and well. BrightStar also provides staff to nursing homes that are short on labor.

BrightStar staffers have traveled to assisted-living and retirement centers for respite care, doing tasks such as preparing medicine or lunch. They have stayed overnight with patients recovering from surgery. Many of the child-care calls come from contracts BrightStar has with companies throughout the United States. Some of the calls are parents or caregivers who need last-minute help.

Other businesses in Utah offer similar services. One of those companies is Garden Terrace, a home specializing in Alzheimer's and rehabilitation patients at 1201 E. 4500 South in Salt Lake City. Patients stay overnight while their caretakers vacation or take a break, said Steve Tracy, Garden Terrace's executive director.

"We have respite care and hospice care, and at a moment's notice," he said. "There are so many caretakers out there who are just exhausted."

Tracy points to studies published in the past five years that have examined the effects of chronic stress on caregivers, including a 2006 study published in the International Journal of Behavior Medicine that found that female caregivers reported worse physical and psychological health than non-caregivers. Male caregivers had greater physiological risk than non-caregivers but reported better physical health..

"Utah is competitive in home care," he said. "There's a lot of companies out there and just a huge demand right now. I think everybody has their own forte."

Like BrightStar, Garden Terrace doesn't accept Medicare except for patients in the rehabilitation unit because of the low reimbursement rate, Tracy said.

Walbom said BrightStar requires clients to pay through private insurance or out-of-pocket. Prices vary according to need.

BrightStar also doesn't accept Medicare for elderly patients because of the government's limitations on care, Walbom said. "For any of the companies that do Medicare, they have to follow all of the Medicare regulations for every patient, even if they're not a Medicare patient," she said. "I'll give you an example. Medicare limits a nurse's visit to one hour. So even if you have a patient that wasn't on Medicare — say they're only 55 and they want a nurse for two hours — you can't do that."

Sarah Asay and her husband, of Provo, have used BrightStar Healthcare for their children, ages 3 and 1, while they've been tending to a family emergency.

Asay works as a wedding videographer, and her husband is an accountant for Ernst & Young. A nanny usually takes care of the children while Asay and her husband are working, but the nanny is planning a wedding and hasn't been available for some recent emergencies. Asay's husband usually takes a vacation day when the nanny is unavailable, "but sometimes he can't do that," she said. "Rather than it causing a huge inconvenience, we can call this company, and they can fill the gap."

The benefit is offered through Ernst & Young. "We pay a co-pay, and they pay the rest," she said.

It's tough to find a good sitter, especially in a moment's notice, she said. Asay said she doesn't worry when she has a BrightStar sitter, because the employees are older and trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and she's willing to pay more money for that.

And if the sitters are inadequate, she can complain to Ernst & Young. "If they don't do a good job, we have recourse," she said.

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