By Kimetha Hill
Contributing Writer

Lia Smith is the Owner and CEO of A Better Solution In Home Care, Inc. We know that care for our seniors is needed, and there is never a shortage in the demand for dedicated and passionate caregivers in this field. Lia began her career as a caregiver and has been in the business for over 25 years. With a deep passion for seniors, she never envisioned owning her own business, but the call on her life was too strong for her to ignore. Now in its fourteenth year, ABS is the largest African American-owned homecare business in California and the ninth largest overall in the state.

A Better Solution In Home Care specializes in excellent, affordable live-in and hourly care for residents in the greater San Diego County area. They provide a variety of services to fit the wide array of needs within San Diego’s aging population. Lia is truly an expert in caring for the community’s most treasured citizens, and she discusses how this rare passion developed.

“I started as a CNA working in Fredericka Manor in Chula Vista.” Of senior citizens she says, “They’re cranky,” with a smile referring to her first love. “They are the ones that have given us everything. And they are the generation that nobody cares about. And I so often would go into homes and take care of them, and notice that nobody would come by. Their kids wouldn’t come by anymore. And here are these people that have written books, who have worked their whole lives and done a lot. They don’t vote anymore so they’re not looked after in the Senate and the Congress. Nobody cares. And so that’s how the passion began.”

The care that caregivers, nurses, LVNs and the like provide at ABS is unmatched. The passion for their clients travels from leadership down to each staff member. As a former caregiver who now employs caregivers, Lia impresses the lessons she has learned into the caregivers as well as provides professional training and development for continued growth.

“When I worked for in home companies as a private caregiver, so many [of them] didn’t teach their caregivers how to be, not only good caregivers, but good people. You don’t just walk in and start moving stuff around, you talk to them. That’s what drove me to get into the field. To make sure my caregivers knew to bring a book, don’t sit there next to a senior citizen changing their TV channel. Let them watch TV, you read a book. Providing classes and things like that for the caregivers.”

Lia says the building they currently occupy in downtown Chula Vista was instrumental in developing the new caregiver training center. Complete with exercise equipment, there is even a personal trainer that comes in twice a week who works with the staff and caregivers. “It’s fun,” she says. “Just to get healthy and supply them with the support they need to go back out. A happy caregiver creates a happy client. You can’t take care of somebody else when you don’t take care of yourself first. That became the mantra.”

To be a successful caregiver requires dedication. And ABS exemplifies that mantra, with some of Lia’s caregivers having been with her since day one. “It’s not the money because caregiving is a low profit margin business. But it takes a special person.” In addition to training, ABS provides caregivers with support groups and CPR classes. Lia encourages her caregivers to excel, to gain more education and to pursue their career dreams.

ABS employs about 223 caregivers, 75 of which are black. They have an African American care manager. As an African American woman, Lia is very aware of the importance in elevating the presence of African Americans in not only the business of homecare, but in society as a whole. Through her own experiences with prejudice, she has made awareness of African Americans one of the forefront agendas on which she focuses.
“There’s a lot of prejudice in the clients; they are 80 – 90 year old Caucasians. A lot of clients ask for ‘college degree and well spoken’ caregivers, and to combat that we have a Black LVN who goes and trains our caregivers. The idea is to get them to see the other side of it, and see an educated, talented African American. Perhaps they’ll be a little open-minded.

“I started as a CNA. Because I’m light skinned they would send me places that requested a Caucasian. A lot of the time, one good Black person can change the point of view for every Black person coming behind them. And that’s really important.”

Lia comes from a family that focuses on leading and making a difference in the community. And not allowing the color of one’s skin to be a barrier, but rather a motivator. “My mom was the first African American school board member in Imperial Beach. My father was youngest commander in the Navy from San Diego. My mom and my dad always said ‘You set the pace. And make sure you set it so that other Blacks can follow. Don’t just blaze a trail and act any kind of way and do any kind of thing. You set the image of the next Black that’s coming through.’ The way I deal with somebody is going to change the way they view you, or they view somebody else.”

It is exactly this mentality that Lia brings into ABS, creating a culture of diversity and acceptance. “I have 10 employees, 3 of whom are black. By the way I treat my staff, my staff treats my employees.The majority of my staff is Hispanic because I’m here [in Chula Vista] and we deal with a lot of Hispanic and Spanish speakers. Five to seven years into owning the company, I realized that I needed to incorporate more African Americans on my staff so that people understand that we are working in an industry where we employ mainly Blacks. Up until last year, my administrator was Black, but has since moved on.”
It is vitally important, Lia says, to give African Americans an opportunity. And in her position, she feels a responsibility to help change the perception of Blacks that currently exists. “I was amazed that just because I speak clearly, I own a company, I’m not aggressive or what have you, in order for me to be ok, I have to not appear to be Black. I started wearing braids because I wasn’t seen as Black.

“I think that people in general, especially in San Diego and in Californian society, are so used to seeing Blacks portrayed a certain way that their inclination is to believe that we’re the exception, rather than the rule. We are educated, talented, intelligent Black people. We’re not the exception, we are the rule. What they see on TV and what they encounter, that’s the exception. I think that it’s important that we let people know that.”

Lia regularly travels to Sacramento to advocate for small business and seniors, many times being the sole African American lobbying for homecare. “Everybody’s worried about the Hispanic community, but we don’t look out for the Blacks who are becoming eligible for the higher end jobs, the more proactive things.” But she warns that in pursuing social equality, African Americans must help Africans living in this country. “And we think we’re the only ones who deserve to be there. We don’t bridge the gap. We don’t frequent African American businesses. We’re standoffish to people who speak four languages. We perpetuate the separation. We perpetuate what was taught to us so long ago, because it’s so easy to pit us against each other.”

Still, Lia’s passion to serve is what has made ABS successful. Last year she began the process to establishing a nonprofit, which is now A Better Solutions Community Resource Organization. Through this nonprofit, ABS provides a community closet that gives clothes to the homeless. She gets together a group of staffers, treks to downtown San Diego and gives donated clothes, food and hygiene packs to the homeless community. “How can we be of service? How can we make it easier for each other? How can I make your day better? It’s a culture.

“When we’re doing something, anything that we have we should be a steward over. I am not this company. This company flourishes because God has determined it to. Sometimes I feel this company has become so successful in spite of me. I don’t have a college degree, I was a caregiver. So I made a lot of business mistakes. And sometimes I walk in here and say, ‘Wow, we’re still standing. Ok God, what next?’ That’s always the question. Who can I serve next, how can I help. Because as long as I’m helping, I’m going to be successful.”

For more information and to receive some of San Diego County’s finest in home care services, please visit www.absihc.com or call (619) 585-9011, (877) 585-9011 (toll free). A Better Solution In Home Care, Inc. proudly serves the community around the clock, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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