Home care veteran Jeff Bevis founded FirstLight Home Care with his son, Devin, toward the end of 2009. A decade later, his tenure as the franchise giant’s top executive has come to an end.
On Nov. 17, FirstLight’s board of directors informed Bevis that “they wanted to go in a different direction,” the former CEO told Home Health Care News. The decision was effective immediately.
“I had a surprise meeting with our board,” Bevis said. “And they decided they wanted to go a different way than what I would like to see, what I would have liked to continue.”
During his time as FirstLight’s CEO, Bevis helped lead the home care company through a long list of challenges, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and a difficult labor landscape. At times, that leadership meant embracing emerging technologies while also refining new revenue streams such as Medicare Advantage (MA) and employee-assistance programs.
Other noteworthy initiatives that Bevis helped drive include FirstLight’s push to convert independent home care operators into its franchise system. The company’s first independent conversion came in September 2019.
A spokesperson for FirstLight confirmed the leadership change on Thursday.
“We are grateful for Jeff, as he led FirstLight through its first decade of growth,” the spokesperson told HHCN in an email. “We wish him well in his future endeavors. With a rapidly changing industry, FirstLight is positioned to move aggressively, seize pertinent opportunities and take the company to the next level.”
Currently, the Cincinnati, Ohio-based FirstLight has 120 owners operating across 200 territories in 38 states, with another 20 territories in development. Its three-year average growth rate is 74%, according to the 2020 Inc. 5000 list.
As of Thursday, FirstLight has not named a replacement for Bevis, who hopes to continue working in the home care space.
“I do have some non-compete limitations that are fairly narrow,” Bevis said. “But I’ve already had discussions with people contacting me from home care-technology [organizations] that do remote patient monitoring and telehealth — the types of services that are not home care-specific. I think I still have a lot of fuel in the tank.”
The franchiser is in the process of conducting a CEO search.
“We have a strong leadership team and interim management committee in place who are deeply committed to creating the best possible future for the company and our franchisees,” the spokesperson said. “We are committed to our culture of care and are positioned for significant growth as we head into the next decade and beyond.”
Bevis and his son registered FirstLight in December 2009, then started franchising the following spring. Instead of following the normal template of opening a flagship location to showcase success prior to selling franchising rights, the co-founders dove right in, Bevis said.
“We started from scratch, as crazy as it sounds,” he recalled. “We just had an idea, a concept. We kind of broke the franchising rule of normally having an operating location first, which serves as your proof of concept.”
Devin Bevis remains in his FirstLight role of executive director of franchise services, according to the company’s website.
After setting up shop, FirstLight expanded to 19 locations in its first full year. Originally, the plan was to have a concentrated footprint in the Midwest, but that plan didn’t play out as expected.
“We thought we would have a Midwest footprint, but our first franchise was awarded in Florida,” Bevis said. “So that put that whole theory out the window.”
FirstLight grew steadily over the next five years, expanding to dozens of locations in several states. Last year, it even expanded into Canada.
Apart from its history of innovation and commitment to franchisee satisfaction, it’s that track record of growth that Bevis is particularly proud of.
“The growth has been solid from the 2010 start,” he said. “We didn’t have the weaknesses or the issues with peaks and valleys, which is what you typically see in some franchise systems. They’ll have like two to four years of fast growth, then a ton of closings because they were just trying to sell franchises as fast as possible.”
Prior to co-founding FirstLight, Bevis held an executive role at Comfort Keepers from about 2003 to 2007. After helping grow Comfort Keepers to about 600 units, he left when the organization changed ownership.
He formed FirstLight after doing international consulting work related to home care.
“I thought, you know, there’s really still more to be done in the home care space,” Bevis said. “I’ve been a caregiver four times in my life, so that continuing experience led me to feel like I could get back in the industry and make a difference.”
‘So much potential ahead of us’
There’s a lot to like about home care and where the industry is headed, Bevis said, but there are still plenty of frustrations. One of the biggest for him is how home care remains somewhat on the outside of health care looking in, even after proving its mettle during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s still the ongoing perception of home care being the [odd man out],’” Bevis said.
Another point of frustration has been how home care agencies have had to fight for every inch of ground gained with third-party payers. Bevis hopes that will change as more Medicare Advantage (MA) plans embrace in-home care and social determinants of health as part of their supplemental-benefit design.
Overall, at least 920 plans are participating in the “Special Supplemental Benefits for the Chronically Ill” MA pathway in 2021, an ATI Advisory analysis of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) data shows. Broadly, that pathway allows MA plans to offer benefits focused on anything that helps chronically ill individuals stay in their homes and out of the hospital.
“Back in 2003, we were saying, ‘Oh, gosh. Wouldn’t it be great if CMS recognized the benefits of home care?’” Bevis said. “Now we have at least a little bit of that, with CMS sticking its toe in the water with supplemental benefits. I think that’s going to speed up.”
On top of payer-related challenges, the home care industry must find ways to better navigate the labor landscape, he added, especially as agencies compete with higher-paying employers in less demanding job sectors.
Standing behind consistent industry quality standards will also be important moving forward.
“Home care has so much potential ahead of us,” Bevis said. “I think a big part of the future will be industry standards, trying to get more [operators] to accept or adopt quality standards.”
Although Bevis is leaving FirstLight, he’ll remain a minority equity holder, he noted.
“I certainly wish the brand all the best,” Bevis said.