The holidays and weeks that follow are one of the busiest times of year for home care providers, as referrals surge. Whether the rush brings in business or results in missed opportunities depends on how agencies prepare.
”The first thing is to simply understand that this trend is there,” Peter Droubay, director of recruiting at senior care resource and referral platform Caring.com, told Home Health Care News. “Unfortunately, far too many agencies just get caught unaware. Suddenly their phone starts to ring and they don’t have caregivers they can place, they don’t have people ready to take the calls and they don’t have advertising out there.”
Online searches for the term “home care” spike every January, according to U.S. Google data from the past five years. It’s easy to understand why: At holiday gatherings, loved ones see for the first time that their parents or other family members need assistance. Generally, the post-holiday bump follows slow fall months and is rivaled only by summer, when home care searches reach peak popularity.
It’s a trend Interim HealthCare’s location in Montgomery County, Maryland started preparing for months ago. There, things start picking up as early as November, with the rush running through January, according to Amy Kisanga, franchise administrator.
”I would say our inquiries double during that period, and it’s a quicker turnaround time,” she told HHCN, pointing to holiday gatherings as the catalyst. “When families are visiting their loved ones, it’s a shorter period of time, so they’re calling and they need someone now because of what they’re seeing.”
Unlike many other franchise companies, Interim’s operations include Medicare-certified home health and hospice services in addition to private-duty home care offerings. Overall, there are more than 530 Interim franchises in seven countries.
This year, the Montgomery County franchise location, which serves about 200 clients with about 300 caregivers, started recruiting earlier than usual. By starting in September, the goal was to give caregivers more time to train ahead of the bump. At the same time, Kisanga’s team checked the availability of current caregivers to make the most of their market.
”This is a very competitive area, so if someone is calling you up and you’re not able to meet that need, literally in seconds they’re going to go to someone else,” Kisanga said.
Meanwhile, New Jersey-based home health care provider CareFinders Total Care prepares for the holidays by juggling logistics.
”The biggest challenge for us is in the rescheduling that has to go on to make sure there’s continuity of care for all our clients,” Co-chairman Linda Mintz told HHCN.
With about 8,000 clients and 20 offices between New Jersey and Connecticut, CareFinders employs about 7,500 home health aides. Mintz says the company plans ahead to substitute coverage and offers additional perks to those who work during the holidays.
“We do offer an enhanced pay rate in order to encourage them,” Mintz said, adding that employees also earn additional points through the company’s internal reward program.
But caregivers are are only one piece of the pie. Social workers, clinical employees and even office staff are equally important when business peaks.
“If you don’t have someone taking the phone calls that are going to start coming in [or] if you don’t have a process where you can go out and do at-home assessments, then it’s all for naught,” Droubay said.
Don’t forget advertising
Even with appropriate staffing, agencies can miss opportunities by failing to advertise ahead of January’s rush. For example, smaller companies often cut back during slow fall months, ultimately costing them business in the new year, according to Droubay, who leads referral business at Caring.com.
“There’s nothing there to capture the leads,” he said. “The salmon run is coming, but you don’t even have your hooks in the water.”
Specifically, the average person seeking senior care online is a woman between 50 and 70, according to third-party market research compiled from more than 4,500 respondents and used by Caring.com. Most often, that person is the care recipient’s adult child (39%) or spouse (29%).
To capture that audience, Droubay recommends bolstering online testimonials and reviews. But local referral services are also important, as clinics and physicians can suggest agencies to prospective clients directly in person. Fostering those relationships during the holidays can be natural for home care agencies.
”You’re walking in for the holidays to drop off cookies, talking to the doctor’s office or the discharge clinics,” he said. “Now you’ve just planted your face, your agency name in their minds.”
With January right around the corner, the sooner agencies start preparing for the post-holiday referral rush, the better. But above all, Droubay says the best way to get ready is to run a solid business year-round.
“Even though we talk about these trends and cycles, individual business owners should never lose sight of the fact that they just need to build great business and keep those systems running,” Droubay said. “Because yes, there are natural cycles, but you can capitalize on them better if you’ve been doing all this stuff during the down times.”
Written by Bailey Bryant