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VitalCaring, the new home health company helmed by April Anthony, is in its early stages. But the company knows where it wants to go.
Anthony and VitalCaring President Luke James made that clear in my conversation with them last month.
But I only really covered part of the long conversation that Anthony, James and I had over a Zoom call.
“I’m calling 2023, to our team, the year of revitalization,” Anthony, for instance, told me. “We are really looking to revitalize our organization, which means we’re going to work to really build that single brand, that single identity. We’re going to make sure that our mission, vision and values are really consistently, not only discussed and deployed throughout the organization, but also delivered on throughout the organization.”
Elsewhere, the two of them spoke candidly about where the company believes it can differentiate itself, its growth strategy, its approach to Medicare Advantage (MA) and much more.
“If we can attract and retain the best clinicians and the best employees, we’re going to provide the best care,” James told me. “We’re not trying to build something so unique, or trying to have some really shiny bell out here to convince some payer to pay us more. That may sound like blocking and tackling. But in an industry where there’s not a whole lot new under the sun, we think that’s what’s going to be the difference for us.”
In this week’s exclusive, members-only HHCN+ Update, I take a further dive into that conversation and paint a more complete picture of VitalCaring, one of the new kids on the block.
VitalCaring, which is part-owned by Anthony, Nautic Partners and The Vistria Group, has the three-pronged approach to growth that many other maturing home health companies do.
That’s through de novos, acquisitions and organic growth.
“When we think about growth, it’s very much a three-pronged approach,” Anthony said. “We absolutely intend to be very active in the M&A space, we intend to be very intentional about our de novo expansion. And then we intend to be very honed in on true organic growth.”
After three core acquisitions that established VitalCaring’s network in the Southeast, there’s been a few tech add-ons and other smaller acquisitions, Anthony said.
Since James and Anthony officially started as president and CEO, respectively, the de novo plans have been ramped up. A few are already in the works and the company expects a few more to be launched during 2023.
“We completed a few acquisitions as recently as a couple of weeks ago as well, expanding into the state of Oklahoma,” James said. “We’ll continue doing that. Then we have the opportunity to de novo, whether that’s leading with the home health location – as we’ve done a few times in Texas – and then backfilling hospice, [or otherwise]. That will definitely be a part of our inorganic playbook going forward.”
The company will be “very honed in on” organic growth too, Anthony said.
That will be aided by a further building out of resources that support that growth, including the right amount and right kind of frontline salespeople, clinical field staff and back-office talent.
“It’s really looking at all three options in every market and trying to figure out if there’s a way, frankly, that we can almost bring all three to bear at one time in order to really reach a market effectively,” Anthony said.
Given how early VitalCaring is in its journey, Medicare Advantage contracts are likely not as top of mind for the company as they will be even in six months. But Anthony did say this will be the year that the company “shores up its payer relationships.”
James also did mention that he believes provider-MA plan relationships are reaching a “boiling point” in the home health space.
“I think it’s fair to say we’re there or near that point,” he said. “It is going to force an issue where payments are going to have to be higher, where payers are going to have to think about home health more from the value creation side of the equation than the commodity and cost side of the equation.”
James acknowledged that it’s obvious that some payers recognize the value of home health care already.
After all, UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) just completed its purchase of LHC Group. CVS Health (NYSE: CVS), which owns Aetna, is closer to finalizing its deal for Signify Health (NYSE: SGFY).
“Saying that they don’t get the value that’s being provided, I think would be short sighted,” James said. “But, … they’re still reimbursing some of the providers in the space in a way that’s short of what Medicare [fee for service] does, and frankly, in a way that doesn’t create a sustainable business model. So I think that growth is only going to bring us more to that inherent inflection point.”
Recruiting and retention
Anthony and James believe that it will not be the uniqueness of VitalCaring that makes it successful, but instead, how it recruits and retains.
That’s easier said than done, of course. A lot of home health leaders echo that sentiment about their own businesses. Having said that, if anyone has the experience that would lend itself to superior recruiting and retention tactics, it would be Anthony.
“We’ve been out visiting all of our offices,” she said. “As part of that brand transition, we’re out meeting every single employee in the company, either Luke or I, in each of our locations. Telling them what we’re about, telling them what our company is about, telling them what we’re going to be about collectively and the impact that that’s going to make on our communities that we serve. That’s the fun work. That’s the part I love.”
She missed being the “chief culture officer” more than being the CEO, she said.
“How do we make people the best they’ve ever been in their career?” Anthony continued. “How do I make you the best nurse you’ve ever been anywhere? How do I make you the best therapist you’ve ever been anywhere, the best chaplain you’ve been anywhere? And that’s really about figuring out what people need – what they are longing for – because I think most people, as caregivers, entered this industry because they wanted to be great, they wanted to make an impact, they wanted to be that person who changed someone’s life for the better.”
Then, in the health care space, that ethos often gets sucked out of those ambitious and well-intentioned employees, she said.
That’s what VitalCaring is trying to avoid, almost at all costs.
“The system just sucks all the good out of people, it’s just sort of this commodity mentality that takes this perspective of, ‘When that one’s used up, throw them away and get another one,” Anthony said. “We’ve got to find a way as an organization to pour back into our people. Because every day, I’m going to say ‘Go out there and give everything you’ve got to the patients, empty yourself today.’ And I can’t say that every day unless I’m willing to refill them.”