Awaiting Medicare Advantage Windfall, Homewatch CareGivers Focuses on Plan Education

Denver-based Homewatch CareGivers is already one of the biggest franchise brands in home care. But it still wants to be bigger.

Overall, the PE-backed Homewatch CareGivers added 17 locations in 2019, and it plans to add at least 22 more this year. It currently has over 200 locations spread across the U.S.

Its parent company, Authority Brands, offers support to seven total franchisors.

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As Homewatch CareGivers eyes geographic expansion, it’s also operating under new leadership. COO Jennifer Tucker is now the highest-ranking executive after the company’s former CEO, Julie Smith, left the brand in February 2019.

While the transition has been smooth, Tucker is prepared for a slew of both triumphs and challenges in the coming years — from expanding the brand’s reach to finding a way to handle more business with less caregivers.

Home Health Care News recently sat down with Tucker to discuss those topics. During the interview, the top exec also talked about Medicare Advantage, another year of double-digit growth for the company and how it feels to be running the operation following Smith’s departure.

Below are highlights from HHCN’s conversation, edited for length and clarity.

HHCN: What have been some industry challenges that Homewatch CareGivers has struggled with?

Tucker: One for us has been software. We are going to be making a big change in 2020 with our back-end software platform. I can’t give you any more detail than that. But we’re excited about having software that supports all of our different models.

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We have lots of offices that are focused on private pay, others working in the long-term care insurance or work compensation spaces. We also have some big offices in the Medicaid and Medicaid waiver area. We haven’t had a software system that can get us exactly where we need to go longer term to benefit from Medicare Advantage.

We kind of hit a place at the end of 2019 where we realized we needed to make a change. We’ve gone through this big RFP (request for proposal) process and are getting close to announcing a partnership in the software space. That has been a huge challenge for us, but it’s going to be a good thing for our network to be able to keep growing and also be able to continue to take government money, which is definitely a space we’re really good in.

Your plan was to bet bigger on Medicare Advantage. How are things coming in that area?

It’s going well, in terms of getting our network educated about how they can engage with local plans. We have owners that are now contracted and working nicely with those plans and able to help individuals that have that kind of insurance. It’s still gaining momentum.

It has not been a huge windfall, and we never thought it would be in 2020. But I think a lot of the legwork we did to identify the plans for our network and help [franchisees] understand how to talk about it even in their regular field sales efforts has been a great message for us and something we can connect into the rest of the health care community with. That’s kind of the place we’re at right now — just getting our network educated about how it all works and how they can be positioned to help all of their clients that have Medicare Advantage policies.

So your goal for this year is 22 new locations, five more than last year?

Yeah, for now. But we’re already at 13 new territories so far, so I know that we’re going to blow that away.

Is there a specific growth plan you’re adhering to?

We have a holding company at Authority Brands that has seven total franchise brands, and we’re the only ones in health care. They have made huge investments into having a franchise development staff to focus on each brand and cultivate leads in some unique ways.

So the lead flow is up. We’re still completely focused on quality of owners. We know, in this business, that it is not at all just about having a pulse. It is about not only having great business acumen, but also having a passion for this business. You can have all the money in the world to invest and you can want to be in home care to make money, but if money is your only driver in this business, it just won’t add up. You really have to have that patience for people and really want to be working with people. If you’re not a people-person who cares about delivering awesome services, it’s going to show — and you’re not going to grow the way you would want to.

We have also started to design our territories in a really deep way that we’d never done before. And that’s something new in 2020 — we’re looking at what’s in that community. What are the referral sources? Where are the clients going to likely come from? Exactly where will the caregivers be coming from? Where do people perceive this community being centralized in? What sub-communities are associated with the primary city?

We’re making sure we’re building these territories for our owners in a way that helps them be successful and in a way that makes sense to consumers, to our clients, to their families and to referral partners. We’ve been doing that, and it seems to be appreciated by the candidates that are looking at purchasing a franchise.

Are there any specific territories you guys are targeting in the next year?

We’re still looking to grow in a lot of the big cities — Houston and Atlanta, those are the two cities that come up first for me. We’re always growing in California. It’s a tough state to operate in [because] there’s a lot of regulation. But we really figured it out there and we have more owners in that state than in any other state. There’s still plenty of space to grow there.

We’ve also got a lot of major metros where we’ve got plenty of territory that’s viable. In the past, we maybe would not have [done business in a community because of the lower household income], but with us focusing more on also tapping into Medicaid, we’re able to sell into more communities than we had thought was possible in the past.

You recently became the leader of Homewatch CareGivers. How has that been going for you so far?

It’s been amazing. I am so just grateful to have had the opportunity. I’ve been with the company for 18 years — I know all the players, I know the owners, I know the vendors. Our internal team is just incredible — so many of my teammates have also been here 10 years-plus.

There are days when my personal balance can get thrown off. I’m a mom of two, married and a big athlete. I love to do triathlons and distance swimming and all this really fun stuff. And making sure I have time to take care of myself and get that 5:30 a.m. swim done [is important]. My balance isn’t perfect every day, but I’m always kind of striving to make sure I can balance everything, be a great leader and make sure our network knows how much we care.

In terms of the industry, is there anything that Homewatch CareGivers has its eyes on?

Absolutely. I think we’re all worried about caregivers. The heart and soul of our business is the caregivers and if you don’t have the people, you have to start getting really creative.

Some of our competitors have started to get into little care homes and different things. And I think, similarly, we are looking at our 10-year vision and our three-year picture, and we’ve been doing a lot of forward-thinking work to say, “How are we going to be at that place in three years, where even with the dwindling population of caregivers, we’re still going to be not only in business, but still thriving?”

So, how do we supplement our care with technology? How do we look to a place where maybe we’ve got care bots in addition to caregivers to supplement that care. There’s some really nice data that shows that even those robots can have nice human interaction and feel really good for people, in terms of companionship.

How do we do more with fewer human beings? Those are just all things that are on a lot of our minds in this industry.

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