For years, the trend of aging in place has been heating up, with more and more seniors opting to grow old in their homes. Now, the coronavirus has added even more fuel to the fire.
Widespread COVID-19 outbreaks at skilled nursing facilities and assisted living centers have further reinforced what home-based care providers have known all along: Home is the safest place for seniors to age. That is, as long as the house itself is set up for such.
Enter TruBlue Total House Care, a national franchise company headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, that specializes in house care, home maintenance and safety modifications to help seniors age in place.
While the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) estimates there are more than 33,000 home-based care and hospice providers nationwide, the senior home modification market is still somewhat untapped. TruBlue President Sean Fitzgerald has aspirations to change that — and a vision of making home-based care and home modifications go hand and hand.
“The opportunity is complementing existing home care agencies,” Fitzgerald told Home Health Care News. “We want to partner with them, whether they’re a franchisee or just a referral source because … we want to keep seniors in their homes just like the home[-based care providers do].”
TruBlue was founded in 2011 and has nearly 50 independently owned and operated franchise locations to date. In the next five years, Fitzgerald wants to grow that number four-fold to 200. The biggest hurdle, he says, is awareness.
“Sometimes, people look at this as a luxury item, and it’s as much as a safety issue for me as it is a luxury item,” Fitzgerald said. “We don’t want seniors doing things that are going to put them in a position where they could fall and hurt themselves, which leads them to hospitalization or assisted living facilities, which we’re trying to prevent in the first place.”
Unlike home care companies, which focus on serving seniors themselves, TruBlue focuses on the homes they live in.
Many of its services are designed to cut down on the risk of falls, which are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries to older Americans, according to AARP. Falls kill 30,000 seniors per year and send an older adult to the emergency room every 11 seconds.
The company offers everything from Age Safe America-certified home safety assessments and handyman services to yard work, home modifications and more.
Individual franchise locations employ handymen and carpenters — which they call home technicians — to get the job done. Those jobs can be as simple as taking grills out of storage and changing light bulbs, or as involved as installing grab bars and ramps.
The company offers seasonal and monthly service packages, but one-time requests for handyman services make up the bulk of TruBlue’s business.
Amid COVID-19 that changed slightly, but not substantially, according to Fitzgerald.
“We were actually maintaining business, if not having really strong months just because people are focusing on outside projects,” he said. “The vast majority of owners did well. One owner even broke a system-wide record in April, then followed up again and broke it in May.”
While Fitzgerald declined to share any specific numbers, he said the owner broke the former sales record by more than 25%. And he only expects the upswing to continue in a post-coronavirus world.
“The home care industry is going to explode,” he said. “COVID really scared a lot of people as far as assisted living facilities go.”
Fitzgerald expects more business for TruBlue, too, as he considers home modification as a usually-necessary compliment to home care. And he’s not alone in that view.
While TruBlue is still in the early stages of facilitating home modification and home care collaborations, some companies have already bridged the two areas internally.
PE-backed HouseWorks is one example. The Boston area provider has a private pay in-home care offering, as well as a designated home modification arm.
“As good as the services, if the environment for the client isn’t right, it’s not going to work,” HouseWorks CEO Andrea Cohen told HHCN last year. “People are going to really look to home modification as increasingly important.”
TruBlue, on the other hand, doesn’t offer home care or have any formal nationwide partnerships with home care providers. Instead, franchisees currently reach out and develop relationships on a location-by-location basis, Fitzgerald said.
There’s plenty of room to deepen those relationships going forward. Already, the company sees a lot of interest from home care veterans, like Fitzgerald himself.
Also a career franchising veteran, Fitzgerald joined TruBlue in November, but he’s no stranger to the aging-in-place market. Fitzgerald spent more than two years as the executive vice president of franchising at BrightStar Care.
His resume also includes a stint as chief development officer at FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers, which offers physical therapy, balance retraining and fall prevention, among other services that can be beneficial for seniors.
Those experiences — as well as a couple personal ones, including his father-in-law falling down the stairs and becoming quadriplegic a few years ago — helped point him to TruBlue.
Fitzgerald knew the company founders, who also operate various other franchise brands. During a conversation with them, they inquired about which brand he was most interested in.
“I went instantly to TruBlue, which was their smallest, youngest brand but most emerging brand,” he said. “There’s not a lot of awareness about these type of services, and it’s got tremendous potential.”
It’s not just corporate level home care vets TruBlue is attracting. It’s also franchisees like Jennifer Corder.
Formerly the director of client care for a Home Instead franchise location and a nurse of 20 years, Corder recently opened a TruBlue franchise location in Fort Mill, South Carolina.
“I saw such a big need for these kinds of services when I was working in the in-home care industry,” she said in a press release. “If something like TruBlue had existed in the community I served, I would have been referring to these services all the time. The house itself is such an important part of successfully aging in place safely and comfortably.”
While that’s exactly the kind of synergy Fitzgerald is hoping for, it’s only the beginning of the collaborative opportunities he sees.
“As we grow, I see a lot of people in that space looking to diversify looking for something like this because this is something that would be really easy to bolt on,” he said. “It’s a great compliment to what they’re currently doing. … By having a program like ours, in addition to the home care industry, we’re saving lives.”