Since taking over as CEO of Interim HealthCare in January, Jennifer Sheets hasn’t spent much time in the office. Instead, she’s been on the ground, averaging three states per week on a tour of Interim franchise locations across the country.
The former chief clinical officer and senior executive of clinical operations, innovation, education and quality at Bayada Home Health Care says hearing from agency owners and operators has been integral in helping her gain perspective in her new role.
Founded in 1966, Sunrise, Florida-based Interim has more than 325 franchise locations worldwide. The home care company provides a variety of home-based offerings, including a number of specialty services for complex conditions such as congestive heart failure, dementia, diabetes and several others.
Sheets hopes to expand those specialized care lines in the years to come, with another priority being to invest in technology to streamline processes and improve patient care. She plans to check the pulse of franchise operators along the way.
HHCN recently caught up with Sheets, who took the interview from an Interim franchise visit in South Carolina, to talk about the transition and her goals in the years to come.
Below are select highlights from the conversation, edited for length and clarity.
HHCN: Right now, you’re on a tour of Interim agencies nationwide. Coming into the role, why are location visits such a priority for you?
Sheets: I really want the perspective across the organization.
I’ve been trying to hit the small offices, the large offices, the new offices, the offices that have been in business for 25-plus years [and] the offices that are second and third generation.
I really want to get a good sense of, collectively, the organization, so my plan going forward as I get through the first 90 to 100 days, is to consistently dedicate a portion of my time to be out in the offices.
I’ve always struggled with leaders in big organizations that think they can sit in their office in whatever location and understand what’s going on out there with the people that are doing the work at the bedside, so I certainly think it’s important to always keep your finger on that pulse.
It sounds like it’s been keeping you busy with travel, but that’s just one part of this new role. Generally, how’s the transition into the position going?
It’s going really, really well.
Interim is clearly an organization that’s rooted in operational and service excellence, which is near and dear to my heart.
I think growing up, personally, in a family business that’s now in its second generation gives me a unique perspective into Interim’s model.
I’ve been doing a lot of visiting out with the owners, and I’m quickly working to become acquainted with the principle traits that have consistently contributed with Interim’s growth and success.
It is so impressive to me that we’ve got owners that have been owners for more than 25 years, and we’ve got businesses that are now on their second or third generation of leaders.
That’s unique and part of what attracted me to Interim to begin with.
Tell me a little bit more about your background and how your time at Bayada prepared you for this role.
I have 20-plus years of health care management experience, first in the hospital setting and then in the home health setting.
I’m delighted to be back in an environment where I can leverage the operational, the clinical and the quality components of my past roles.
I am the kind of person who thinks with both sides of my brain, so I can think about operational excellence and driving efficiencies, but I’m never going to lose sight of the quality of care and the service that we provide.
I never want to forget what it was like to be the night shift ICU nurse working on Christmas Eve, thinking that leadership couldn’t care less that I was sacrificing time with my family. I think that really positions me well to have a holistic view of our industry.
In my past experience, I’ve done a lot to hone those three things and successfully have introduced and operationalized many progressive programs that … have improved patient outcomes and reduced delivery costs.
I look forward to continuing to leverage and augmenting those strengths — that ability to see the whole picture to further develop that kind of dynamic strategy for operational excellence and future growth of Interim.
What other goals do you have going forward in the years to come?
I want to make sure that I am building on that strong legacy that Interim was founded on.
As an industry, home health care is a great place to be. It’s certainly showing no signs of slowing down or — unfortunately — becoming any less complex.
I think the mounting demand for innovative solutions from the consumer and the healthcare marketplace — which luckily is what we deliver — is going to become even more critical. It has become very, very clear that better care requires a holistic view of the patient.
We will continue our work to highlight our proven outcomes and to redefine home care.
In addition, we’ll invest in technology.
Technology has the potential to transform the industry in the years ahead, and I think home care providers have got to be careful and pick and choose the right tools for their patients.
For me, I look for technology that will improve the health, happiness [and] wellness of the client, but will also drive business process efficiency.
For us, it is continuing to leverage our footprint and history and layer that with the holistic view of the patient so we can respond to a lot of the change in where health care is going, aimed at population health and value-based trending.
Do you have specific growth benchmarks?
Obviously, we want to grow.
Interim has a proven track record of growth, and I think that being at the table and being the innovator that the organization is known for being, we will continue to grow.
If we’re … thinking through population health and thinking through predictive indexing, artificial intelligence, technology that can really facilitate transitions, we’re going to drive growth because we’re going to continue to be what Interim is — which is a differentiated solution for home health care that is kind of first at the table with all the innovation in the industry.
Interim currently operates several specialized care lines. Do you have plans to roll more of those out?
From my perspective, the acuity of patients being discharged from the hospital has really increased significantly over the past several years. People used to stay in the hospital for a week for a procedure that’s now done in an outpatient setting.
When we think holistically about combining that statistic with the increased number of people who are aging in place, the complexity of all of these multiple diagnoses that people are trying to manage and all of the social determinants that affect health and wellness, I think the importance of being able to meet patient needs through a variety of service offerings is more important now than ever.
Interim has certainly done a lot of work to provide specialty programs that address chronic conditions of the patient, and I think we will continue to do so and look at how we connect those now with a lot of where health care is going [toward] things like population health.
How do we look at preventative measures? How do we look at evaluating risk of social determinants and readmission even before the patient gets plugged into the home health setting? How do we continue to work through those things to keep people healthy and happy at home?
You’ve mentioned you’re interested in investing in technology. Do you have specific technologies Interim is eying right now or that you’ve recently invested in?
We’ve been partnering with small companies to help us look at how to attract more talent.
Everybody’s struggling with the shortage of staff, and so we’re focused on how do we make that an easier, more seamless process and really respond to the age of consumerism.
Then, I am always interested in technology solutions that will help respond to [other industry challenges].
How do we connect care across the health care continuum? How do we make sure we’re using things like … artificial intelligence, predictive modeling or screening tools for risk for readmission to highlight the needs for additional levels of care? How do we connect our information in with the health systems?
That’s a big strategy for the next year. I would say 45 days in, I don’t know what we’re going to invest in yet, but I do believe technology is on the table.
There are a lot of companies attempting to disrupt the industry right now, like Honor, for example. What do you make of these kinds of disruptors and how does Interim compete?
The problem is that health care is not as easy to automate and standardize as booking travel or online retail or other consumer-driven products, and I think that’s what has caught some people off guard.
For home health care specifically, I think [weaknesses] are access to coordinated patient information, patient choice being trumped by insurance plan or primary physician requirements and the knowledge deficit … related to all that home- and community-based care offers.
I’ve seen many companies come to the table with the solution to solve these complex problems and the promise to disrupt the industry, and the reality is most of those have either failed outright or they’ve had to change their models significantly multiple times.
Historically, the industry has been fairly fragmented, but there have been a lot of mergers and acquisitions lately, and I’m wondering — what do you make of that?
I think it’s evident that health systems are working very hard to drive down costs. We all are.
One of the main ways we’ve seen health systems do that is by partnering more and more with home- and community-based services versus traditional post-acute care settings that require higher costs and more beds a day.
With Interim’s kind of unmatched value proposition — focused on specialty care programs and service offerings and leveraging the giant footprint we have — we’re well-positioned to respond to the demand and be at the table for some of these acquisitions and partnerships.