Thursday, June 18, 2009

Managing the Growth of Home Care Companies

I’m always interested in listening to what people are saying about care for our nation’s elderly. We know that, if it were left up to most of us, we’d prefer to stay in our own homes right to the end of our lives.

Home care is the fastest growing sector of care in this country today. A couple of days ago I was listening to a recorded interview of a woman by the name of Shelly Sun who, with her husband, founded a home care franchise company. Their company, BrightStar Healthcare, is only a few years old, but already they have over 45 locations. They’re planning to grow to 400 locations by the end of next year. I’m betting they do it.

Their story is featured in Entrepreneur Magazine, July 2008, as a successful start-up story. Like most people who are successful in the field of elder care, they got started because of a personal need. The Suns needed care for his grandmother, according to their story, and when quality care was not readily available, they saw a need.

Filling a personal need is how many of us got started in senior care. It’s where most of us get the passion to continue to explore best practices, no matter what our particular niche might be.

And when it becomes personal – when we need help for ourselves or a member of our own family – we look for others who share the passion. We look for someone who will be dependable and trustworthy, but most of all we look for someone who will know what to do and how – and when – to do it.

Today, home care has a reputation of helping people stay where they want to stay – in their homes. Keeping a positive reputation, however, will mean that home care agencies manage their rapid growth with skill.

They’ll need to find a way to provide compassionate, dependable caregivers to families in need, often on an ever-fluctuating schedule.

They’ll need to ensure that their staff are not only trustworthy but well trained to provide exactly the care their clients need. Working alone in a client’s home presents unique challenges, particularly to new caregivers.

One of the first skills we teach new caregivers, especially those working with people with memory loss, is to get help when they feel overwhelmed. When a client resists bathing or personal care, for example, forcing the person will result in someone getting hurt – usually the caregiver.

In home care, no one is around to hand the ball to when the caregiver has tried everything she knows. No one is there to say, “Give it a rest for a few minutes – why not take a short break?” when the caregiver is clearly frustrated and at her wits’ end.

Will home care agencies end up with the same negative reputation that has plagued nursing homes over the years? Will they become the focus of front page newspaper and TV investigations, with stories and images that cause us all to shudder?

Clearly, it depends on keeping the passion for providing quality care. It depends on focusing on staff training with a laser eye. It depends, in short, on managing the high rate of growth so that ever more people can choose to receive care in their own homes, right to the end.

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