At the onset of the COVID-19 emergency, small home care providers suddenly faced new and profound challenges. For many, the spread of the virus meant a decrease in business due to numerous factors, plus internal disruption with the launch of fully remote workforces.
One company, Aware Senior Care, has largely been able to avoid these pitfalls — and then some. In fact, Aware Senior Care has actually seen its business double in size compared to this time last year, according to the company.
Founded in 2014, Aware Senior Care is a Cary, North Carolina-based home care agency that provides dementia care, personal care, companion care and in-home transitional services following hospital discharges or rehab-facility stays. In addition to Cary, the company also serves the Raleigh and Apex markets.
For Aware Senior Care, taking action early meant the difference between being prepared and confronting struggles down the line, President and CEO Tim Murray told Home Health Care News.
“We saw this coming,” he said. “We were monitoring the news and the possible stay-at-home orders. We started to research and make sure we were up to speed on doctrines from CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services up here in North Carolina. We educated our caregivers on what was coming, and how we’d operate when it [arrived].”
Staying ahead of the COVID-19 curve also meant gathering personal protective equipment (PPE). The public health emergency has made procuring PPE a herculean task, as the industry saw an increase in scams and price gouging.
Aware Senior Care also kept a close eye on its caregivers’ health to ensure the safety of its patients, according to Murray.
“We made sure we monitored the caregivers,” he said. “We gave them guidelines regarding symptoms. If they felt they had symptoms, we took them [out of the field] and agreed that they should be quarantined. It happened a couple of times, but none of our caregivers were infected.”
Things that were always important, such as cleanliness, became even more important in an effort to avoid further spread of the virus. At a time when stress is at an all-time high, it was also crucial to filter out disinformation, according to Murray.
Even in the best of times, recruitment and retention remain a pain point for most home care providers. It’s a problem that has been partly linked to low wages.
In 2018, the average home care industry turnover rate jumped to an all-time high of 82%, according to Home Care Pulse.
The COVID-19 emergency has further compounded the issue.
Despite this, over the time period of April to mid-May, Aware Senior Care hired more than 25 new caregivers.
“In the last year and a half, we raised the salary for our staff and caregivers to what Home Care Pulse deems the upper 85th percentile,” Murray said. “We also offer additional benefits to the caregivers. We are one of the few that offer medical and 401(k) plans. We have a PTO program based on time accumulated.”
On the retention front, Aware Senior Care implemented “extraordinary pay” amid the coronavirus.
“[Caregivers are] getting a couple of dollars more per hour during this time period in recognition of their dedication and putting themselves in harm’s way,” Murray said. “It was well received.”
The company’s efforts fall in line with providers across the country that have offered incentives for caregivers working in the fields at this time. While funding hazard pay is often difficult for home care operators with thin-margins, many believe the next round of federal COVID-19 relief will include some sort of language to support higher pay for front-line workers.
In addition to the pay bump, Aware Senior Care has added a personal touch to its retention efforts by sending handwritten thank-you notes to all 135 of its caregivers.
Because of Aware Senior Care’s proactive response, it has been able to dance around disruption and drastically grow its business amid the coronavirus. Forgoing deeper ties to the community has also propelled that growth.
As part of its community outreach strategy, the company created a virtual webinar series that covered caregiving for families during the COVID-19 emergency, dementia care and caring for seniors with Parkinson’s disease.
“We need to help families, and one way to do that is education,” Murray said. “We used to visit churches and senior centers, but everyone is on lockdown … so we put together a series on topics people are still struggling with. Help the community in some fashion and they’ll remember you.”
Aware Senior Care has doubled their weekly client hours compared to last year at this time, billing for 3,000 client hours a week versus 1,650 client hours a week last June.