Marketing, Workforce Management Among Top COVID-19 Challenges for Independent Home Care Agencies

While the COVID-19 virus had a profound effect on home care providers across the U.S., it forced independent agency owners to navigate a unique set of challenges. As independent agency owners move forward, the lessons learned from the pandemic will likely shape their decision-making for the foreseeable future.

One key takeaway from the public health emergency has been a “strength in numbers” mentality. Over the past several months, industry competitors have become closer allies, with coalitions and working groups becoming major lifelines.

Strength in numbers has also meant leaning on trade association memberships.

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“I absolutely agree with … the importance of the network, the different groups that we’re all part of, the friendly competitors,” Glenn Lane, CEO of Westchester Family Care, said Thursday during a panel presentation at the Home Care Association of America (HCAOA) 2020 Virtual Leadership Conference. “It really was a time for folks to pull together.”

Westchester Family Care is a Mamaroneck, a New York-based home care provider. The company’s offerings include personal care services, home-safety support, transfer assistance, companionship services and more.

The public health emergency has likewise forced providers to reevaluate their branding, marketing and advertising, which is already an overwhelming endeavor for independent agencies.

“One of the unique things to us is there’s really no one else that has our branding,” Kunu Kaushal, CEO and founder of Senior Solutions Home Care, said during the HCAOA panel. “That’s the piece of being independent, but it’s a downfall if you don’t have a very strong brand to begin with, or if you’re still developing it.”

Brentwood, Tennessee-based Senior Solutions Home Care is a company that provides personal care services, transportation solutions and nutrition support. The company has more than 20 offices across the state.

Like most providers, Tender Rose Dementia Care Specialists’ biggest marketing challenge is the possible exposure risk that caregivers bring when entering clients’ homes.

Jim Kimzey, the company’s CEO, believes providers need to make changes that address such concerns before marketing their services to consumers. To that end, Tender Rose Dementia Care Specialists changed its scheduling protocols in a way that optimized safety, according to Kimzey.

“How many caregivers do we have going into the home,” he said during the panel. “How many other clients are those caregivers taking care of? How many shift exchanges do we have in a week? We had 24/7 clients that had three eight-hour shifts. We converted them to 12-hour shifts. We did that for safety.”

Tender Rose Dementia Care Specialists is a San Rafael, California-based health services company exclusively focused on one-on-one dementia care.

After making these changes, the company was able to focus on its marketing efforts and promote the new safety measures to its clients, as well as referral partners.

“We communicated everything that we were doing to current clients, caregivers, existing referral sources with video,” Kimzey said. “We actually created a new newsletter just to go out to our clients and keep them updated.”

Retooling operations

At the start of the COVID-19 emergency, providers also had to address retooling their companies’ operations to fit a new work-from-home environment.

Westchester Family Care, for example, began working remotely in March. The company quickly found that things needed to change from process and tech perspectives.

“I really focused on tech,” Lane said. “I’ve definitely made some changes … to better leverage some of the Microsoft tools that we already had, such as Skype and now Teams. Also, fuller utilization of the home care software ClearCare. I want to make sure everyone has the right equipment at home, the right virtual phone, the right headset, the right printer and the right PC, so that they can be very seamless.”

The shift to working remotely full-time also made the company consider ergonomic factors, according to Lane.

“I hear chiropractors talk all the time about people coming into their offices that are affected by the fact that they’re working in a bed or on a couch,” he said. “Making sure everyone was able to either take their chairs home or buy different desks so that they’re comfortable was important.”

For Senior Home Care of Tucson, it was important to zero-in on internal and external communication strategies, according to Tina Gillette, the company’s CEO.

“We have been a 100% automated agency, so the communication really didn’t change; it just increased in volume from management to the caregivers,” Gillette said during the HCAOA event. “We’re learning how to communicate with the younger caregivers. Texting has come into play in a big way, not only just texting the caregivers but also applicants. The communication utilization of technology has just been wonderful.”

Senior Home Care of Tucson is an Oro Valley, Arizona-based provider. The company’s offerings include companionship and personal care services, plus housekeeping, transportation and other services.

Looking ahead, most providers believe that the changes they’ve made will improve operations for years to come.

“I think it will all make us better going forward, have more scale, have more rapid responsiveness,” Lane said. “And that probably won’t change, regardless of when the operation kind of moves back into a normal location.”

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