Homewatch CareGivers has grown its business during the COVID-19 crisis, so much so that it has even been surprising to its own executive team.
The Denver, Colorado-based home care franchise company has awarded 37 new territories in 2020, 21 of which will have new franchisees at the helm. The new offices opened in a variety of areas in the U.S., including Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Texas and Utah.
“The kind of growth that we’ve had so far this year is not what we had expected,” Jennifer Tucker, the COO of Homewatch CareGivers, told Home Health Care News. “I thought maybe we would do 25 new territories this year, and we’re at 37 right now.”
Tucker, who is the top executive at the Homewatch CareGivers, is also confident the company will close on another five or so territories this year, bringing the total amount of new territories to over 40 in 2020.
The franchiser added 17 locations last year. When Tucker spoke to HHCN in early March, she was hoping it would add “at least 22” this year. Now, it’s likely that number will be nearly doubled.
The Homewatch CareGivers system serves 33 states and seven countries through 230 total locations. The franchiser employs over 4,500 caregivers across its network.
Because 2020 exceeded expectations from a growth standpoint, it has completely changed the company’s outlook over the next few years.
“Because we’ve added so many new territories this year, it means that we’ll have bigger numbers next year, because our franchise owners will be able to care for more and more clients and we’ll be able to hire more caregivers,” Tucker said.
The demand for home care, which has been accelerated by COVID-19, has played the largest part in the outsized growth. And that’s a trend that the company does not expect to slow down anytime soon.
It’s expecting more franchisee interest, more clients and more potential leads and partnerships.
“I expect it to continue into 2021, and I don’t know when it’s going to slow down,” Tucker said. “It’s definitely changing our outlook. It’s great, because growth has always been part of our plan. We do have a lot of whitespace in the United States, and we’ve really been wanting to grow domestically. So this is just kind of accelerating things for us, which is fabulous.”
Even when a vaccine is widely available and has been distributed in mass, Tucker — and a lot of other health care executives and insiders — don’t believe that the tailwinds for home-based care will subside.
There will always be a place for other types of senior care outside of home care, but now that some of the proverbial cracks have been shown in other community- or facility-based settings, there could be no going back.
“[Those other providers], they’re still really important and they fill an important need,” Tucker said. “We’re very friendly with folks in those other spaces, and we partner with them all the time. But I definitely think COVID-19 has highlighted the fact that care can be provided at home. So many people didn’t understand that home care was even an option before. And I do think it’s put a spotlight on our business.”
Its relationships with referral sources — such as home health, hospice, primary care and rehab providers, as well as hospitals — have strengthened since March.
“Our classic referral sources in markets where we were already established, those relationships have gotten even stronger,” Tucker said. “Because we’ve had to find ways to continue to connect with those folks, even though we can’t necessarily be face to face.”
Outside of the new locations, the specifics of Homewatch CareGivers’ growth have also been a bit surprising to the company. Generally a private-pay home care provider, the company’s Medicaid business is up 35%, year over year.
That’s true for all of its claims-based business, whereas private pay has been mostly flat. That is beginning to pick up as well, however, Tucker said.
The recession and new franchisees
When recessions hit, as one is now, franchisee interest ticks up. A lot of home-based care providers have seen this trend resurface during the public health emergency.
“This whole trend around the downturn in the economy, it usually drives people to being interested in small business opportunities,” Tucker said. “I just think with the pandemic, people are realizing the setting is going to be the home, and they want in on the business.”
A lot of individuals within corporate America, which is usually the demographic that is most likely to venture into franchising, are concerned about their own companies instituting layoffs or salary cuts.
Franchising gives them the opportunity to take their fate into their own hands.
“They want to be in charge of their own future and want to build something,” Tucker said. “I think that’s just the time for those more entrepreneurial corporate folks to go, ‘Yeah, I want to do something else.’ And it kind of gives them that extra boost to make a different decision.”
On Homewatch CareGivers’ end, it saw the same thing happen in the last recession around 2008 and 2009.
That trend is another that the company is not expecting to slow down. Especially as the company invests in new virtual strategies for its entire network, it believes that it will continue to be an attractive option for potential entrepreneurs.
It’s gotten to the point where Homewatch CareGivers is worried about having too many interested franchisees.
“I almost don’t know if we can handle much more interest,” Tucker said. “It’ll be a good problem to have. … Of course, we would want new clients, but the big limiter in home care for us is the lack of access to caregivers that are fabulous.”
Tucker is not worried about finding new clients, but instead, she’s worried about staffing new locations, if the growth trends continue. That’s where the company will aim a lot of its focus moving forward — finding a lot of good caregivers, and making sure to retain them.
That’s another reason the company is instituting a virtual care strategy, one that it believes will help out workers, first and foremost.
“The virtual care space [can be] really attractive to caregivers and something they really want to work with, and it drives caregiver satisfaction,” Tucker said. “So we’re looking at things that can kind of drive that efficiency, and then use caregivers in person when we absolutely have to… so those are some of the things we’re looking at for next year.”