About four years ago, Senior1Care Co-Founder Carl Bossung received a call from law firm requiring immediate care for a professor at Notre Dame. He had just been diagnosed with brain cancer. He had no relatives in the area, his closest being a niece who lived in California and also happened to be his power of attorney. On the same day that they got the call, representatives of the company made their way to his home to set him up with 24-hour care
Caregivers treated him for five months, sending his niece updates on his health on a regular basis. When he passed away, the company helped her coordinate funeral arrangements since she lived so far away.
Not long after the funeral – at the point where relationships with the families of deceased clients typically end – they received another call from his niece. She said, “Now that he has passed, we need to continue with your services. Not to take care of him, of course, but somebody’s got to take care of his cats until we can move them to California.”
Bossung responded, “We can do that.”
The same caregiver that worked with the professor went to take care of the cats on a daily basis. The company even took care of bringing them to the vet to get them vaccinated before being sent away.
About two weeks after her first request, she called again. Her uncle, the cat lover, had his prize cat cremated. Recently learning that you can bury cremated human remains with an animal in her deceased uncle’s home state, she wanted to know if Senior1Care could send a caregiver to the house to find the cat’s remains. Once found, they were to be shipped to Georgia to be buried with her uncle.
Bossung sent a caregiver back to the house to search for the remains, ultimately spending a whole day searching through boxes. They found their deceased client’s beloved pet and sent them to his niece.
“Boy, you guys are full-service. I love it,” she said.
STARTING FROM SCRATCH
When Carl Bossung first founded Senior1Care with his son, Kyle, they didn’t know much about the business with the exception of the fact that Carl’s mother once needed homecare. Before passing away at the age of 95, she wanted to stay at home and be cared for rather than living in a nursing home. Back then, it was extremely difficult for Bossung’s family to find a suitable caregiver for her that was both reliable and competent.
Formerly a partner of a CPA firm, Bossung was nearing retirement age when he decided that he wanted to form a business that he could use as a vehicle to teach his kids what he learned during his 40 year career. Having observed other companies who focused on creating products and services for baby boomers, he realized that it was a promising generation to target because “you wouldn’t have to create any demand, and the demand is always going to be there.”
At the time of Senior1Care’s launch eight years ago, there were five other companies in the South Bend, IN community offering caregiving services. There are 18 today, primarily franchises. When the Bossungs went on a fact-finding mission to learn about the industry from the existing companies, many tried to sell them franchises in other territories. However, based on the team’s collective experience, Bossung had enough confidence that they could start a company on their own.
Having spoken with various franchise owners over the years, Bossung has discovered that many would start from scratch if given the opportunity. Asking what they would do differently if they could hit rewind, Bossung learned that the good ones that are growing and successful wouldn’t do a franchise the second time around. They said that they needed it at the time and that it got them off to a good start, but that it doesn’t do anything for them anymore. When it comes time to cut ties with the business, which is going to have more value? A franchise or an independent company? To Bossung, the answer was simple: an independent.
Starting from scratch at their kitchen table, the Bossungs covered everything from creating a business name and logo, to developing marketing materials and contracts. They hired part-time caregivers and made connections throughout the area to get the word out about their business launch. From there, it took off with more hires and new business. They haven’t used any advertising since day one, growing simply through word of mouth.
A family business, Senior1Care has expanded both in locations and staff size. In the eight years that it has been in the business, the company has developed in two locations, South Bend and Indianapolis, and employs an impressive 150 caregivers.
Bossung expressed that his experience working in the CPA industry has immensely helped the company get to where they are today. He largely equates many aspects of his new business to that of his former career – from the purpose to the operations. “I tell people that this business is not much unlike the CPA business and they kind of laugh. If you think about it, CPA firms try to hire quality people, too.” Both are in the business of attracting clients and providing high quality service and value. Both operate under similar systems in which you record your hours, schedule, bill, collect, and so on. “The only difference is that we hire a different type of person. We’re hiring caregivers instead of accountants and consultants. But what actually makes the business tick and what allows you to grow is essentially the same.”
SUCCESS & VALUES
Of about 6,500 small businesses in the area, Senior1Care won the 2014 Small Business Award at an annual event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. The honor helped attract new attention, with TV and newspaper print publicity. “It’s really good when someone else recognizes that you’re a quality organization versus having to go out on our own and tell everybody that our business is great. It gives you a lot more credibility.”
According to Bossung, the company’s name and tagline speak volumes for the core values that Senior1Care is built upon. The “1” was incorporated due to the numerous things that it can stand for, including the company’s tagline, “First in values, first in care.” The number one core value is integrity. “We want to operate with a high level of integrity with everybody we deal with whether it is our caregivers, our clients, or the people in our office and the administrative staff. That’s first and foremost, that’s the foundation. We’re going to treat everybody with honesty, integrity and respect.”
Another value is one that is seemingly simple, but actually quite challenging: responsiveness. One of management’s primary missions is to be as responsive as possible in order to satisfy the needs of all of their clients, referral sources and anyone else in the market for their services. With that value in mind, the company’s goal is to return all service request calls within five minutes of receiving it, providing prospective clients with an answer as to whether or not they can help, and whether or not they have a caregiver available to provide the service.
When the company first started, there were instances when they would be on on-call lists for assisted and independent living facilities along with a small handful of other service providers. They would receive calls requesting immediate attention. When they’d take too long to respond – sometimes just 15 minutes – they would call back to find that the client had already gotten in touch with an available caregiver. They were in crisis mode and needed somebody fast. If someone is available, Senior1Care wants to have that person on-site with the client as soon as possible, and does not want to make their clients wait long enough that they have the time to make another call. “It’s a tall order to meet, but it’s our goal.”
Last, but not least, Bossung noted that the company has a very important trust and growth philosophy.“We want to continue to grow because we believe that growth provides opportunity for everyone within the organization. The other part of our mission statement is to being caring and compassionate. We don’t want people in the organization who don’t have that philosophy. You can’t be in this business if you aren’t caring and you’re not compassionate, and that’s what we look for in the people we hire.”
Senior1Care is also a private pay company, meaning that they do not accept many government payments via programs such as Medicaid or Medicare. Because of this, caregivers should be even more communicative and display bigger personalities than they may have otherwise. They should be able to effectively communicate with their clients as well as their families since they are privately paying, thus carrying greater expectations in terms of quality of care.
Finally, the company culture is very much like that of a family. While there are a lot of blood relatives working for the organization, there are just as many who are not but still feel like they are. That’s the exact type of atmosphere that they strive for; an environment in which people get along very well, have fun, and work as a team.
HOW TO LAND THE BEST
While working at the CPA firm, Bossung experienced a fantastic spurt of growth, starting with just 25 people and one office, and leaving when there were close to 3,000 people and 20 offices worldwide. However, it is not in his vision for Senior1Care to follow suit. While they are growth-focused because of the opportunity it presents, they are not going to be that large. From his experience with both companies thus far, Bossung has learned that in order to succeed, it all comes down to the quality of its employees. “If you can hire the best quality individual, they type that is the company when they’re out serving the client, then you’re going to grow and you’re going to have success. In the broadest sense, that’s what our philosophy is. We want to find the best people that are out there.”
Multiple people handle the hiring processes for Senior1Care, including Bossung. “If they don’t smile three times during the interview, I’m probably not going to hire them.” The goal is to hire people that have a personality, can have fun, and show that in their disposition during the interview.
To land great employees, Senior1Care linked up with a CNA Training School very early on in the life of the business. It is essential for the company to employ individuals that are licensed and trained in their skills, rather than people that are simply homemakers responding to newspaper advertisements. They should be experienced in bathing people, assisting them with the toilet, transporting appropriately, providing medication reminders, and more. Approximately 80% of the people hired by Senior1care are CNAs, with the other 20% being people who have prior experience serving the senior community, whether for another location or facility, or for a relative in need.
Bossung mentioned that Indiana’s CNA training requirements changed on January 1st, escalating from just 40 procedures to 70. Unfortunately, this change resulted in the closing of the training school with which Senior1Care had originally partnered. The managers simply did not want to deal with the changing regulatory requirements. With this news, Bossung reached out to the school’s nurses and instructors and asked if they would be willing to continue working, but under Senior1Care. Many agreed, launching the company’s new journey in operating the training school. The old school trained about 3,500 people over the course of 15 years. So far this year, about 140 have been trained. However, the company doesn’t employ all trainees. “We’ve only hired about 12 or 13 of the 140, but we got 13 of the best.” The cream of the crop.
This new addition to the Senior1Care family allows management to observe in-class training sessions before caregivers are taken into a skilled nursing home where they are required by the state to spend two weeks performing supervised hands-on training. They are then reviewed, tested by the state, and ultimately declared CNAs. Bossung believes that this system is “the biggest move for the success of the business because there is going to be a huge shortage of quality people.”
RECOGNIZE THE PROBLEM, OFFER A SOLUTION
Bossung substantiates that there is a huge problem relative to not only having high quality people, but having enough people. The economy has played a large role in the issue because caregivers, even those that are certified, are not highly paid. Consequently, many end up leaving that field to get much higher paying positions in other industries. Senior1Care has even seen a decrease in the amount of program applicants for its CNA training school. “The people who are successful and stay in it are generally the ones who aren’t necessarily in it for the money. It’s the compassion, their caring attitude, and their love for helping these people. There are not many people out there like that.
In addition to the problematic economy, quite a few people who join the caregiving industry are not even aware of the requirements. At a recent job fair, Bossung noted that many people in attendance had no idea that for many caregiving jobs, you must be licensed and trained. However, there was also an abundance of employers – nursing homes/assisted living facilities and rehab centers – present that were willingly hiring these people. “There is a lot of misfortune in terms of what the requirements are; not just from the job seeker’s standpoint, but the general public as well.” Bossung also noted that there is a lot of dissatisfaction amongst employees and seniors in the homecare industry, and he believes that it may be correlated with the fact that many join the field unaware of how hard it can truly be. A lot of places are wildly understaffed with an abundance of clients to care for, forcing caregivers to jump from person to person and making it difficult to develop any type of personal relationships.
These issues can lead to employee turnover. Fortunately, the turnover that Senior1Care has experienced is far less than industry averages or what is experienced in skilled facilities. “It’s one of the biggest surprises that I’ve had since we’ve been in this business. It’s not just with the caregivers, but everybody in the facilities. It’s from the Executive Director to the marketing people, to the chef, and everybody else.” Personnel seem to turn over annually.
However, turnover amongst caregivers is something that Bossung has grown to expect. The South Bend market, for example, houses the training school. Many join the program to become certified because they want to continue their career in the medical arena, eventually working as a registered nurse. Foreseeing the eventual plans of a prospect, Senior1Care still makes the hire because he or she is believed to uphold characteristics in line with that of the company’s mission. They are actually encouraged to join, rather than sent away because they may not be a long-term hire.
The beauty of Senior1Care’s hiring system is their training facility because they already know who they are working with. It isn’t somebody coming off of the street with an application; someone they don’t know much about; someone who could be another company’s problem. “You can do all the reference checking you want, but you won’t know who they are until you see them in action.” With the school, they know their hire is reliable, that they will show up, and that they are properly trained. Management is confident in their trainees because the program has an extremely high pass rate relative to other state programs, resting at 93%.
The company tries to avoid being procedure and policy-driven and does not have an official HR department, which Bossung believes has worked in their favor. The office manager of six years, for example, joined the business after working for a large policy-based hospital for 17 years. When she made the switch, she was surprised to learn that there was no vacation policy in place and that she could take as much time as she deemed appropriate. Knowing that she could take what was needed without being penalized – unless, of course, she used and abused the luxury – Bossung speculated that she had actually taken less time off than she may have if she were allotted a set amount of days per year. Senior1Care is results-driven, not time-driven.
Bossung attributes the company’s employee quality and retention successes to the family atmosphere and the flexibility. Employees learn to grow fond of each other, building relationships due to all of the time they spend communicating and working together to make the business, their careers and their clients’ health a success.
“There is a really close tie, they feel it personally. It’s not just a job. There is a lot of pride. We’re trying to create that feeling because we want them to feel that they are working for the best company, providing the best services.” The pride that the staff feels for Senior1Care ultimately results in more business, as the employees dually function as ambassadors. Many prospective clients were either referred by a current or former caregiver, or, they heard from friends or family members about their positive experience with one or more of the company’s caregivers.
What makes Senior1Care’s system so appealing to potential employees is the chance to experience one-on-one time with clients, developing true relationships and essentially being their own bosses. The mission of this company is to do things right and provide the highest level of quality service possible while keeping a happy staff. According to Bossung, that is the key to what his company’s success has been, and is going to be the key in the future. “It’s all about hiring the right people. I like this better than the CPA business because the people we deal with are eternally grateful for what we do.”
“I say to my kids, ‘I just hope we can continue to improve the business; improve the quality of care we’re giving, because basically all I’m doing here is training all of you to take care of me.’ That’s my goal.”
For more information: http://www.senior1care.com