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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Companies ease difficulty, stress of moving to new home

Deb Fry, left, owner of Pack with Compassion, joins employees Sandie Fotts, center, and Karmen Isitt as they assist a senior couple with their move into an apartment at the Fairwood Retirement Village on April 10 in Spokane. The business helps with the physical and emotional aspect of the huge life transition. (Colin Mulvany)

It is perhaps the most amazing thing Robert Premus has witnessed in his 80 years – a one-day move where he didn’t have to lift a finger or pack a box. By evening, he and his wife, Sophia, were in their new retirement home, which was fully unpacked and arranged with fresh tulips on the table and dinner waiting.

This is the whole goal of Pack with Compassion, a Spokane company owned by Deb Fry that helps people – often seniors or people with disabilities – move. But they don’t just pack boxes. Deb and her staff focus on compassion – navigating the emotional rollercoaster of helping people leave their homes, often after 50 years. She aims to take the worry and work out of the daunting process and helps people with that overwhelming question of “Where do I start?”

“I don’t think I could have done it,” Premus said, remaining in awe four days after the move. “I have heart problems and can’t lift. My wife has early-stage dementia. The kids work. (This was) a godsend for us.”

Fry started her company eight years ago, just as the idea of senior move managers blossomed with the reality that the elderly will account for one-fifth of the total U.S. population by 2030. The market is ripe, with Americans age 85 and older comprising the fastest segment of the population.

With baby boomers staying in the workforce longer, they often find it difficult to help older parents downsize and move from the family home to a smaller, safer residence. And often, they have their own health and family issues. Fry is a member of the National Association of Senior Move Managers, which lists associated senior movers across the country and provides a code of ethics for members. The other member company in Spokane is Smooth Transitions of the Inland Northwest.

“My goal is to eliminate as much stress for my clients and their family members as possible,” Fry said. “We are the hands and feet for your decision.”

The notion of moving into a retirement community that offered assistance for Sophia Premus was overwhelming but crucial – and needed quickly. The couple found an apartment that fit their needs at Fairwood Retirement Community in north Spokane.

The facility staff moves its clients within Spokane County for free but the Premuses needed help with packing and a little extra TLC. Marketing director Debra Rubens recommended Fry.

“Deb is such an easy choice,” Rubens said.

Rubens also refers people to certified senior advisers Tim and Beth Swilling of Care Patrol, who help people find the right transitional home whether it’s a nursing facility, in-home adult care, memory care or independent living.

Unlike many referral agencies, the Swillings help families figure out the right fit for the senior’s needs, both physically and financially. Then they drive the client and show them various options. It’s a free service paid for by the network of care facilities. The Swillings also help seniors contact various agencies and services such as veteran benefits for housing.

Jack Rountree, 66, tried to get his parents to move from the duplex they shared with him into a care facility. He didn’t have much luck until he was referred to Care Patrol. The Swillings recommended adult care homes, where Rountree’s parents could remain in a home setting but with full-time care. They also made Rountree aware of a veterans benefit that he said helps pay for his father’s housing.

Rountree was fearful with all the stress he may have a heart attack and die before his aging parents. Today he feels relief and is enjoying his life again, including being a son to his parents.

“We cried together and hugged a lot,” Rountree said of the Swillings. “I could never have accomplished the move without Tim and Beth.”

This is the type of emotional paycheck the Swillings aim for.

“It makes every difference in the world when people have more choices,” Tim Swilling said.

Choices are what Pack with Compassion and other senior movers give their clients. Besides helping people move, these companies also help people stay in their home as long as possible by helping people declutter and create a safer floor plan, and remove common in-home hazards, especially to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs.

They also assist families who have recently lost loved ones when sorting through a lifetime of memories and possessions becomes overwhelming.

Fry’s specialty is going through years of possessions and helping families decide what to keep and what to donate, auction, yard sale or pass down to other family members.

For clients who are moving, Fry and her staff tag the items that will relocate to the new home and arrange for a moving company. On moving day, Fry and her staff pack everything into boxes and then unpack everything into the new home. They set up with the goal of making it look like the former home, just on a smaller scale.

She takes pictures of the original house and makes sure everything is in the same spots: Silverware drawer on the correct side of the sink. Pictures hung on the wall in the same proximity to the favorite chair. Photos arranged exactly the same on the night stand by the clock. Clothes hung in the same order in the closet. No detail is overlooked.

“They were lifesavers,” said Betty Renford, 87, who used Fry to move from the home she and her husband, Jack, shared for 57 years to a one-bedroom apartment in a retirement community. “I couldn’t envision myself moving in and seeing all the boxes. I would have cried.”

There wasn’t a box in sight when the Renfords arrived.

“All our things were on the table the way we had them,” she said. “It felt just like our home.”

And as with the Swillings, the relationship doesn’t end with the move. Both companies maintain a relationship with their clients and check in on them periodically. It’s all part of the idea of compassion.

Fry’s advice to anyone considering a move or who are concerned about their parents:

“Be proactive and don’t wait for a crisis,” she said.