After spending decades as a corporate executive, Chicago area-native Gary Ratkiewicz decided to enter the home care industry for the same reason many people do: He was inspired by personal experience.
After navigating his parents and son through end-of-life care, he bought his first BrightStar Care location in Tinley Park, a southwest suburb of Chicago, in 2015. Since then, Ratkiewicz has drastically increased the location’s customer and employee satisfaction numbers by dozens of percentage points, raising them in 2018 to 93% and 94%, respectively.
Additionally, the location was ranked one of America’s Best 2019 In-Home Care Agencies by Caring.com, as well as a 2019 Provider of Choice, Employer of Choice and Leader in Excellence by Home Care Pulse, which bases its results on feedback and satisfaction ratings from clients and caregivers.
“I’d like to tell you we have a secret sauce, but we don’t,” Ratkiewicz told Home Health Care News. “We have some really strong fundamentals that we just don’t get away from.”
The agency’s success comes down to treating people well, which Ratkiewicz says starts with caregivers. For example, when Chicago temperatures plunged to 23 below during January’s Polar Vortex, Ratkiewicz paid his caregivers bonuses to come to work.
That’s on top of more than $25,000 in bonuses that the Tinley Park location’s 125 caregivers received in 2018. Other incentives include higher pay — about $17.50 an hour — for shorter shifts and a steadily increasing base pay.
“Leaving the bonuses out, over the past 3-and-a-half years, we’ve increased pay by 25%,” Ratkiewicz said. “Again, this is part of our philosophy: We have some national accounts, and if we can bill a higher rate, we’re paying the employee a higher rate.”
By paying caregivers more and recognizing their successes with hand-written notes and personalized phone calls, the BrightStar location boasts a caregiver turnover rate about a third of the industry average, Ratkiewicz said. Nationwide, the median caregiver turnover rate is 66.7%.
As the caregiver shortage worsens, winning the labor competition is paramount for home care agencies’ future success. By 2026, as many as 7.8 million caregiver jobs nationwide are projected to be unfilled.
To further bolster his caregiving staff, Ratkiewicz’s team includes a full-time recruiter who is constantly looking for new talent, targeting hirees ages 19 to 70. The goal is to always have a roster of caregivers able to offer continuous care to a range of clients.
“Each age group you have to recruit a little bit differently,” he said. “People in the older group are probably a little bit more traditional, they’re putting a resume out somewhere online. With a lot of younger caregivers, we’ll use Facebook, social media, their friends, and we text them for interviews.”
In turn, Ratkiewicz has found that satisfied caregivers translate into satisfied clients.
”I always ask my caregivers, ‘Who’s the best salesperson in the room?’” he said. “And they’ll say, ‘Well, it’s you Gary.’ And I say ‘No, it’s you.’ Our caregivers are the biggest contributor to our success because if they do a good job, our clients are going to tell people.”
That’s important because the vast majority of home care providers are selected by clients based on word of mouth, according to Home Care Pulse’s most recent Home Care Benchmarking Study. Additionally, positive experiences — captured by regular customer review surveys, which are then put online — help direct clients to the Tinley Park BrightStar.
Bad reviews are equally important, Ratkiewicz said, as they help inform the location’s business.
“When I come in in the morning after I turn on coffee, the first thing I do is I go look at quality [surveys] to see if there are any reviews in there, good or bad,” Ratkiewicz said. “If they’re good, we pick up the phone and call the client and say, ‘Thank you for this.’ If it’s anything that’s off for any reason, we pick up the phone and call, and if there was an issue, we’ll go back and fix it right away.”
At the end of the day, an agency’s success comes down to its customer satisfaction, Ratkiewicz said, which is why he believes his location has become so prosperous.
“Everything we do starts and ends with the word client,” Ratkiewicz said. “If we’re going to make an investment, if we’re going to change a procedure, if we’re going to add a new service offering or do something a little different, we need to start with: How does this impact the client on the front side, how does it impact [them] through the process and how does it impact the client on the back side?”
Thrive is a HHCN series that explores the successes, struggles and strategies of home care owners and operators on the local level.