The non-medical home care industry has slowly carved out an important position within the larger health care continuum over the past several years. It has done so thanks to the home care’s documented ability to improve health outcomes and cut costs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only solidified home care’s role, especially as caregivers continue to provide critical care on the front lines of the public health emergency.
“COVID-19’s impact has really put us, as an industry, front and center. It has really solidified our place in that continuum of care, overall,” Jeff Bevis, CEO of FirstLight Home Care, said last month at the Home Health Care News Franchise Forum. “[There have been] evolutionary changes [in the past], but COVID-19 has actually helped us.”
Headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, FirstLight is a national home care franchise company that operates in more than 30 states. Among their services, FirstLight agencies offer companion care, personal care, dementia care services and more.
Michael Slupecki — CEO of Blue Bell, Pennsylvania-based Griswold Home Care — echoed that idea.
For the last 20 years, the home care industry has predicted that “the home” would serve as the future center of the health care continuum, Slupecki said at Franchise Forum. But before 2020, the industry was just taking “baby steps” toward making that reality.
“There was an opportunity there, but it looked like it was going to take about 50 years for that prediction to come true,” he said. “One pandemic later, and the prediction has become reality. People have been made aware of the value of care in the home — and not only the value but the possibility. I think all of us have learned so much.”
Griswold currently provides personal care services across 200 locations in 30 states. As part of its business mix, the franchiser also offers hospice care at some of its locations, plus an array of other services aimed at enabling aging in place.
While the demand for home care services is at an all-time high this year, the industry itself has yet to reach its full potential.
Yes, COVID-19 has accelerated the need for in-home care, but there’s still the “silver tsunami” to watch out for. In-home care providers have hardly felt the impact of America’s rapidly aging population at this point.
“We talk internally and see indications that demand is probably at a midpoint,” Bevis said. “We still have a good 10 to 15 years ahead of us, where demand is going to go higher.”
For FirstLight, the past five years have been a time of dramatic growth. The company has seen revenue growth of 318% during this time period, with new-unit growth of roughly 95%. Currently, the company is in over 260 markets.
Plus, the company has seen steady growth in its number of clients and caregivers, according to Bevis. Even after the current public health emergency subsides, FirstLight will continue to be bullish when it comes to expanding its footprint, he noted.
“We’re probably pretty aggressive minded,” Bevis said. “We really expect to have even a bigger and faster growth element to our national footprint. That’s for both opportunity markets and for growth in our national alliances and third-party payers.”
Similarly, Griswold has its sights set on expansion, but plans to take the slow-and-steady route.
“We do want to expand geographically, but we also want to be selective,” Slupecki said. “[We want to] be measured by the number of successful franchisees, not by the number of franchises sold. We want to be thoughtful around it.”
Recently, Griswold has seen an uptick in individuals looking to join a franchise system. This is potentially influenced by the current COVID-related recession and job uncertainty, according to Slupecki.
“There have been people impacted by the slowdown, economically, and people that have lost their jobs and are looking for something that they control their own destiny on,” he said.
Moving forward, Bevis and Slupecki believe that more and more will be expected of home care providers. Home care’s role as “the eyes and ears” in the home will serve as a vital tool for its counterparts working in skilled home-based care.
For example, that includes home health providers that are looking to set up SNF-at-home product lines. Such models need to have a strong home care component for constant monitoring and support with ADLs.
Additionally, with news that COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna filed for emergency use authorization with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Bevis hopes that caregivers will be recipients of the vaccine.
“We sure hope that home care is part of the health care worker component there … we do need to protect our employees, who then can make sure we protect our clients and their families too,” he said.
To this end, seven national home-based care advocacy organizations recently petitioned the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to ensure that home care workers are included in the health care workers that the committee determined should be first to receive the vaccine.