Dozens of nursing homes and organizations exist across Long Island to be a home for senior citizens or to provide in-house care, but only one company has been fortunate enough to have the talents of Hicksville’s Kim Schirrman.
Right at Home North Shore Long Island, located in Hicksville, provides senior care services in the comfort of wherever a senior in need calls home. Services range from companionship and homemaking to around-the-clock care and specialized care for those with mental or physical disabilities. A nationwide company, Right at Home’s local franchise is owned by husband and wife duo Phil and Sandy Quartuccio. Last year the pair nominated Schirrman, a nine-year employee, for Right at Home’s Caregiver of the Year Award. Schirrman won out of a pool of nominees from across the entire northeast region.
Schirrman said she’s known that homecare is the profession she wanted to be in since she was seven years old. What started with taking care of her grandmother until her passing turned into a passion for making the lives of the elderly as enjoyable as possible. With senior apartments down the block from where she lived, Schirrman would spend her free time riding her bike there to talk with the folks who lived in the apartments.
“I didn’t know anybody, but we would laugh and they would talk and I knew that one day I wanted to take care of the elderly,” Schirrman said.
After going to school for medical, Schirrman spent three and a half years working at Nassau County Medical Center, but she wanted more than what the doctors offices had to offer her. Schirrman’s selfless nature lends itself to her desire to work one-on-one with patients, so when she discovered Right at Home while driving home Sept. 24, 2009—a date Schirrman can never forget—everything fell into place after submitting an application on a whim.
“I could not imagine doing anything else. I love what I do,” she said. “My belief is that I come across certain people for a reason. They teach me something as much as I teach or help them and it’s vice versa.”
When she first started her work with Right at Home, Schirrman was a senior companion and would take care of clients with basic needs who did not require hands-on care. But once the Hicksville franchise acquired their license to provide home health aides—employees who provide hands-on service—Schirrman took a six-week course to receive her home health aide certificate—a credential she keeps up with through training each year. Now, most of her clients are those with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or dementia.
“They’re somebody’s mom, somebody’s father or grandfather,” she explained. “I would look around the house and if I see pictures I’d say, ‘Can you tell me about that?’ So you get them soft and then take it from there. It’s like putting one foot in the door and then they’re fine. Then you build that trust.”
Schirrman’s first case with Right at Home involved a brother and sister. For three weeks she couldn’t get the sister to speak much to her, but that all changed when she asked about a curio filled with angels in the living room.
“I just started asking her about angels. She would point at what each one was and who it was and what it meant and it was like a clam shell opening up. She said that I was her saving angel,” Schirrman recalled. “My very first case, I’ll never forget that. Never.”
Hospice care is another service Schirrman provides as part of her Right at Home work. She explained that while it can be difficult, she finds solace in knowing that each person she cares for lived a full life.
“Knowing that I can help ease somebody’s end of life or just make them feel a little bit better is very fulfilling to me. Sometimes it’s hard because I realize I’m the last face they’ll see. You always ask them to send you a sign and they do,” she said.
Outside of Right at Home, Schirrman also began advocating for Huntington’s Disease research after learning her husband lost multiple family members to the disease.
Every September she participates in the Huntington’s Disease Society of America’s Team Hope Walk at Belmont State Park. Last year’s walk saw 1,300 people raise $22,000—an amount that was matched by another donor, bringing the total amount raised to more than $40,000.
Between her career and volunteer work, there was no doubt in the Quartuccios’ mind that Schirrman should be nominated for Right at Home’s Caregiver of the Year award.
“Here I am getting nominated for something that I love. Overwhelmed is an understatement because this is something that I love more than anything and to be acknowledged for that is something beyond words,” Schirrman said. “[This job is] rewarding to me in so many ways. It fills my heart and I can’t imagine doing anything else. If I can help [my clients] make life a little easier, a little happier, then I’ve done my job.”