When COVID-19 came on the home-based care industry’s radar, it brought fear with it, leaving agencies scrambling to prepare for worst-case scenarios.
The storm has not been weathered just yet. But in dire times, providers have chosen community in lieu of competition.
That’s been especially true for a group of in-home care providers that have made morning conference calls part of their new normal. On those calls, questions are answered, emotions are unveiled and plans are realized.
The group is made up by Andre Cohen of Massachusetts-based HouseWorks; Alex Bonetti and Daniel Gottschalk of Texas-based Family Tree In-Home Care; Gregory Solometo of New York-based Alliance HomeCare; and Jeff Wiberg of Washington-based Family Resource Home Care.
Though the coalition was not specifically designed to deal with the global pandemic, it has been paramount to each organization’s fight against the coronavirus in the past few weeks.
“We just happened to start this group a couple of months ago,” Cohen told Home Health Care News. “When the coronavirus broke, we started reaching out to each other, asking [one another], ‘What are you doing?”
Because the group started so organically — over hotel-bar drinks at a conference last year — it was easier to share information and be upfront about the unique challenges that each were facing.
After the first call post-coronavirus, the volume of communication increased between the four provider executives, who all run private-pay home care organizations of at least $20 million in annual revenue.
“We liked each other, so we figured, let’s just keep talking and be vulnerable with each other,” Gottschalk told HHCN. “We’ve already shared a lot of information here. Let’s keep doing it in a more open format.”
Each has brought a different perspective to the current crisis. Although they all have M&A plans for the future that could cross their paths, they’re currently located in different regions of the country.
For instance, Gottschalk and Family Tree had dealt with the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The lesson he shared? Don’t be afraid to be overprepared.
“We overreacted to Hurricane Harvey,” he said. “When you’re dealing with a [situation like this], you look crazy for going over the top at the beginning of the story, but halfway through the story of the coronavirus, you’re going to look like you didn’t do enough.”
Before the hurricane even hit, Family Tree knew exactly which patients and caregivers would be displaced, and raised money for caregivers that were affected by the storm.
Family Resource Home Care, on the other hand, was on the front end of the U.S. COVID-19 crisis in Washington state. Now, Alliance Home Care is battling it from what experts are calling the country’s epicenter for the virus, New York.
Family Resource held a webinar for providers in Washington state to share how they had been handling the situation.
“We have advisors over different industries giving feedback, so as a group we just kind of put our heads and our resources together to come up with what protocols should look like,” Gottschalk said. “And a lot of that was about that clear, calm communication for how to communicate things to clients.”
It’s not unusual for agency leaders to communicate with each other. Leaders from both skilled home health and home care have done so more consistently since the coronavirus threat became imminent. But the intimacy at the core of this group has been an eye-opener for the parties involved.
Among the ideas they’ve shared were forming a coronavirus readiness team, leveraging in-place technology to communicate better with caregivers and requiring additional infection training for the majority of their staff.
When Alliance Home Care attempted to acquire tests for caregivers and patients, Solometo reported back with details on how the process was being handled.
“This all really started based on trust. And we all believe that trust leads to growth and innovation and will help us all at the end of the day,” Cohen said. “And it’s not easy all the time for people in the same industry then to be vulnerable and to trust each other. I feel like the coronavirus is a great case example of how this group is going to be helpful to us as we continue to try to grow our businesses.”
While they’re a great example, this particular group is far from alone in its belief that now is the time to come together.
Telehealth companies have offered free services for agencies to broadcast messages to worried clients. Networks like myCNAjobs have worked day and night to do whatever they can for providers and caregivers alike. The law firm Littler Mendelson has formed a provider-led steering committee to share best practices for dealing with the pandemic.
The National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC), the Partnership for Quality Home Healthcare (PQHH), the Home Care Association of America (HCAOA) and state-level trade organizations are similarly banding together.
Collectively, the industry has its head down and its shoulders out for others to lean on.
That’s why the foursome of HouseWorks, Family Tree, Family Resource Home Care and Alliance doesn’t keep the information they’re sharing secret. Their relationships go far beyond this group alone, and so once they get a good tip from one another, they’re not afraid to share it with others in their region.
“We’re all looking out for all of our colleagues in the industry, not just each other, that’s for sure,” Gottschalk said. “We use information from each other to get the right message out there about calm protocols … . We’ve been very open about everything.”
The bottom line: If home-based care is poised to be one of the solutions to this pandemic, it’ll take the industry’s entire braintrust to make it happen.
“We’re all of the mind now that anything that we can do to help each other is what we’re doing,” Cohen said. “And that feels really good, frankly.”