After starting off 2020 with a round of non-caregiver layoffs and rumors that SoftBank walked away from a major investment into the company, San Francisco-based Honor quickly had to refocus and face the coronavirus.
While the outbreak comes with obvious challenges for Honor, the tech-enabled home care company has been able to learn from the crisis while further growing its partnership model, according to President Nita Sommers. Founded in 2014 and backed by $115 million in venture capital funding, Honor currently provides its services in California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Ohio and Michigan, its most recent market.
“It has been busy keeping up with how to adapt the business during this time, where everything is changing rapidly,” Sommers told Home Health Care News. “And we work across a number of markets, so we’ve seen a lot of variation. Keeping up with all those changes has kept us busy.”
Initially, Honor’s response to the coronavirus meant quickly virtualizing all of its operations, a process that has “gone really smoothly” so far, according to Sommers, who noted that the company’s existing technology capabilities helped streamline the process.
Next, Honor turned its attention to building out its safety protocols across all of its markets and lines of business. It also began helping its home care partners market their services and increase general public awareness of home-based care.
“We’ve been doing training sessions with them,” Sommers said. “One of our training messages is that you have to make sure people know you can still take clients. You need to educate them on how [home care] is safe … and raise that awareness.”
Broadly, Honor’s business is built on partnering with existing home care owners, taking over a bulk of their agencies’ billing, hiring, training and scheduling functions for a negotiated share of revenues. While the company does not release how many agencies are currently in its partnership network, it had publicly touted partnerships with at least two dozen as of December.
Similar to most home care providers, Honor agencies experienced an uptick in visit cancellations when the coronavirus rose to national emergency status, particularly with low-hour clients. Generally, the “pop” in visit cancellations contributed to partner revenue drops anywhere from 5% to 15%, Sommers said.
“People who maybe had four or 12 hours of help a week felt like the risk of having a caregiver come into the home just wasn’t worth it,” she said.
Within Honor’s different markets, Michigan was the most affected by the coronavirus.
But by the time HHCN spoke to Sommers in early May, new starts of care had been ramping up once again, she said, which echoes comments other home care industry insiders have recently made about some sense of operational normalcy returning.
Honor itself did not experience a revenue hit, largely because the company was able to keep growing its network even amid coronavirus disruption, according to Sommers. Honor does not publicly share any information related to its revenues or internal financial figures.
“For us, the overall revenue impact has been a lot smaller — there actually hasn’t been any negative revenue impact on us — just because we keep adding partners at the same time,” she said.
To overcome coronavirus challenges, some Honor agencies have decided to launch innovative initiatives.
In Detroit, for example, Affordable Home Care began delivering groceries for some of its clients. Meanwhile, another agency began “doing a lot of work in the virtual world,” Sommers said.
“Those are just some examples of the things that our partners have been doing on their own side, in addition to the work that Honor has been doing,” she added.
The coronavirus hasn’t only created challenges for Honor and its agencies — it’s also presented certain opportunities. One silver lining the company has seen across its network is a doubling of applications for caregiver jobs, for instance.
“I think it’s very tied to the unemployment rate, which has gone up, particularly in California, quite a bit,” Sommers said. “It’s a combination of people who were in other sectors or maybe had previously spent some time in caregiving and then moved to another sector, like education or child care. So far, we haven’t had issues staffing shifts.”
For the week ending May 9, U.S. workers filed nearly 3 million new unemployment claims, the Department of Labor (DOL) reported Thursday. That wave of new unemployment claims comes as the country gradually begins to reopen for business.
Over the past two months, the number of unemployment claims has surpassed 36 million, contributing to an employment landscape that is the worst since the Great Depression several decades ago.
In terms of short-term impact from the coronavirus, Honor agencies are relatively split in their views, according to Sommers. Some believe the negative impact will be short-lived, while others predict a prompt return to business as usual.
“But what’s interesting is nearly all of them said that, longer term, they thought demand will go up,” she said.