‘TaskRabbit for Seniors’ Helping Older Adults Age in Place

Over the years, there have been a number of home care-adjacent startups that have entered the market and attempted to provide services that could potentially rival those offered by traditional providers. One up-and-coming company is now setting its sights on helping older adults age in place by becoming a TaskRabbit for seniors.

The company is Brooklyn, New York-based Umbrella, a membership service that allows older adults to connect with people in their neighborhood. In particular, Umbrella assists seniors by connecting them with individuals who can help them with everyday household chores, including home organization, meal preparation, light housekeeping and trips to the grocery store.

Umbrella also helps seniors find companionship — a staple for the traditional home care agency.

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Founded in 2017, Umbrella currently operates in New Jersey and Long Island, though it has plans to expand across the U.S. In July, the company announced a $5 million funding round, led by Thrive Capital.

The rise of Umbrella is largely tied to older adults and their preference to age in place. Founders Lindsay Ullman and Sam Gerstenzang wanted to give seniors a way to hire people in their neighborhood for one-off jobs or tasks to support that goal and recognized a gap in the market.

“You can try to find people to hire in one-off ways, but the challenge is often that they only take on bigger jobs, or they tend to be expensive,” Ullman told Home Health Care News. “What we heard from people is that they had a hard time doing these things themselves, and they don’t want to bother their families.”

While there are similar services to the one that Umbrella provides, the company has already been compared to TaskRabbit, a mobile marketplace that matches freelance laborers with local consumers. But Umbrella’s membership model, reliance on neighborhood communities, affordability and focus on older adults separate the two businesses, according to Ullman.

Umbrella allows local community members — or “neighbors” — to sign up and provide services to older adults. The jobs typically cost $20 per hour, with membership costing $199 annually for access to the company’s marketplace.

“There is a huge number of people who really care about helping out their neighbor,” Ullman said. “They want to be active and do purposeful work. They have great skills, but they just don’t always know who needs help. Umbrella connects communities and neighborhoods — people on one side who need help with jobs they can’t do anymore, and people on the other side that can help with those jobs.” 

In addition to providing help around the house, Umbrella neighbors provide routine home repairs, plumbing repairs, gardening, lawn mowing and air conditioner installation.

With the home care industry grappling with solutions to the caregiver shortage — the caregiver turnover rate climbed to 82% last year — there may be some advantages in home care providers partnering with companies like Umbrella.

Despite the overlap in some of the services, Umbrella makes it clear that it does not view itself as a home care provider itself. Still, it sees the possibility of future partnerships with them.

“We are not a home care service and never intend to be,” Ullman said. “I think we can partner with home care and home health agencies over time because there are things that we don’t do, such as medication-related help. And we have folks from the community who operate home health and home care agencies who refer us to their customers.”

Another company working in this home care-adjacent space is Miami-based startup Papa. The company is a membership-based platform that connects college students and older adults to provide companionship and general assistance, including transportation services and other task-based help.

Papa was launched in 2017 by co-founders Alfredo Vaamonde and Andrew Parker. Its services are currently available in Miami, Tampa and Orlando, Florida.

Last year, the company teamed up with health insurance giant Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM) on a pilot program that allowed Humana’s Medicare Advantage (MA) members to have access to Papa’s services.

“This is another way for us to meet members where they are — in their home — and look at them as individuals instead of their diagnoses,” Caraline Coats, vice president of Humana’s “Bold Goal” initiative and office of population health, told HHCN last year.

Announced in 2015, Humana’s Bold Goal initiative is a pledge to make the communities it serves 20% healthier by 2020.

The goal of Humana’s partnership with Papa was to curb loneliness and minimize isolation in hopes of achieving positive health outcomes.

Generally, social isolation increases the risk of poor health and mortality and has a major impact on Medicare costs.

In fact, social isolation costs an estimated $6.7 billion in additional federal spending annually, according to a 2017 study from AARP, which deemed it a social determinant of health.

For Papa, the partnership with Humana was a step toward cementing its place as a player in the aging services space.

“For us, it was really critical to get this incredible anchor partner to prove that Papa isn’t just this cool, niche idea, but something that can really make a difference for older adults,” Parker, the CEO of Papa, previously told HHCN.

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