Home care franchise systems have had their COVID-19 journeys documented well.
Over the last nine months, they’ve seen their referrals fluctuate and their personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies run dry. Many have had to overhaul their virtual care strategies and infection control protocols while also finding innovative ways to recruit new workers.
The journeys of on-the-ground franchise owners have been told more infrequently. Some are now sharing their stories, recalling how they’ve battled the COVID-19 virus on a local level.
“It’s definitely been a wild ride,” Katie Fielmann, a Comfort Keepers franchise owner, said during the Franchise Forum hosted by Home Health Care News last month. “It’s been one of the longest years of my life, but it’s also been one of the fastest, if that makes any sense.”
Irvin, California-based Comfort Keepers, a division of the quality-of-life company Sodexo, is an in-home care franchise that has over 700 locations across the world. Fielmann first became an owner within the network in 2002, and now operates five locations in the Chicagoland area.
Recessions have been a historically popular time for more individuals to get into home-based care, particularly as a franchisee. But for the ones that have lived through it, the year has been a trying, yet revolutionary one.
For Fielmann, the key to getting through 2020 has been an adaptation to methods previously foreign to her and her team, as well as support from Comfort Keepers itself.
“Being part of a franchise, you just have so much support that you wouldn’t otherwise have,” Fielmann said. “Being able to navigate day-to-day, knowing that you have people to reach out to — that are experts in the field and their main job is to support you as a franchisee — is worth every penny.”
Additionally, Fielmann has been meeting with other franchisees on a quarterly basis from across the country. That’s helped ease the burden of COVID-19 on her and the employees that work at her locations, who also benefit from that wealth of knowledge that those sessions provide.
Karen Stephenson, another franchise owner out of Chicago, feels the same way about the help that Omaha, Nebraska-based Home Instead Senior Care has provided.
“Home Instead has been my godsend, during this COVID time in particular,” Stephenson said during the forum. “When I have questions, I can call, and they have massive resources when it comes to government affairs, lobbying and all the things that are going on federally and locally. That is very [helpful].”
Home Instead Senior Care is a home care franchise company with more than 1,200 independently owned and operated offices worldwide. Stephenson runs two locations in the Chicagoland area.
Both Stephenson and Fielmann have reaped the benefits of the home care business in the years since they entered into the space. Even during the COVID-19 crisis, they’re happy they got into the business.
“It’s been the best decision I’ve made in my career — getting into home care,” Stephenson said. “Not only do I feel like I’ve been helping and doing good for people, … but it has also been a good decision from a profit and business standpoint.”
In fact, both have noticed not only an increase in demand for home care, but also an improvement to their bottom lines since COVID-19 became an issue in the U.S. and Illinois, specifically.
But it hasn’t come without change. COVID-19 has brought lessons in its wake, forcing Fielmann and Stephenson to rethink their traditional ways of doing business.
“I almost want to say I have been forced into this, but I have certainly learned to run my business more virtually and digitally,” Fielmann said. “I never realized how old school I was until COVID-19 hit.”
Fielmann’s Comfort Keepers locations have had to learn to work remotely, and also communicate with clients and caregivers in a more effective way with less person-to-person interaction. Fielmann fought remote work for a long time, but has eventually become accustomed to it, she said.
In the end, it has opened up her business mind, increased her locations’ digital and virtual capabilities, and also increased communication.
“I think COVID has helped me be more open to change, to understand that there’s more than one way to do it,” Fielmann said. “And I also think it’s — as crazy as this might sound — It’s kind of increased the communication that we have with our clients and caregivers. Right now, I feel like we are communicating at a whole other level because of COVID. There’s a lot of benefits to that.”
Those lessons learned have made Fielmann reconsider aspects of her businesses’ workflow. After running her five locations out of two offices for years, she’s been able to be as efficient using one office during the pandemic — a potential cost-saver down the road.
For Stephenson, it similarly helped her Home Instead locations learn how to deal with challenges more swiftly. With increasing demand and a looming pandemic, they had to adjust quickly.
“I learned how to pivot on a dime,” she said.