Joe Bakey and his wife Alison opened their first Right at Home franchise in Media, Pennsylvania in January of 2004.
Joe had a business, sales and marketing background. Alison had worked in acute care and rehabilitation settings. Both had aging parents with healthcare issues that had led them to move back home to New Jersey from Maryland in 2003.
They steadily grew their business for the next seventeen years, providing non-medical home care to seniors in their homes throughout Delaware County PA, to over 135 caregivers with a core group of administrative staff.
Then COVID hit.
The first few weeks starting in March of last year are a blur for Joe.
“March 13th was the last day in the office as a team. Our first concern, of course, was what would happen when we went into lockdown. We were sweating out Monday morning afraid our employees wouldn’t show up. The majority of our caregivers are female, ranging in age from 25 to 80 years of age. Many with kids. But our people showed up. They had a job to do.”
Joe, who is an emergency responder and has a logistics background, immediately went into planning and response mode.
Our first concern, of course, was what would happen when we went into lockdown…But our people showed up. They had a job to do.
“We really only thought the lockdown was going to be two or three weeks. But because they closed schools, we were in danger of losing our staff. So, just like you do in any crisis, we created our own circle of control. We were dealing with a lot of emotion and anxiety; we weren’t set up to work from home. We were considered essential, however, so we were able to stay up and running.”
Two Critical Rocks
Joe, Alison and their team had adopted Scaling Up as an operating system back in 2015 when they came on board as CEO Think Tank® members. As a result, they already had a discipline of planning and regular meeting rhythms to keep them on track and focused. That, along with Joe’s experience with crisis management, served them well.
Critical to making it through the first few months, especially during the Lockdown, was focusing on their two biggest Rocks – having enough caregivers and developing procedures to keep the virus in check in their own interactions with clients. They had Daily Team Meetings run by the Operations Manager, created tools to monitor exposure and when it became available, applied for PPP.
“PPP enabled us to pay additional overtime and “hero” pay initially and gave us the foundation to be able to raise our rates and pay our caregivers more,” Joe shared with me.
The Right Support Team
Another critical decision? Right before the pandemic, with our urging and support, Joe had engaged with the team at CRI, CEO Think Tank®’s Financial Partner. They started using the Simple Numbers methodology from Greg Crabtree’s book. According to Joe, “Jack Prince, one of their financial accountants, was instrumental in helping us to navigate the financial swamp and make the right decisions regarding Cash Flow as well. It would have been a lot more challenging without him.”
PPP enabled us to pay additional overtime, “hero” pay initially and, gave us the foundation to pay our caregivers more.
Joe also leaned on Eileen Wainwright, the Senior Advisor for his CEO Think Tank® roundtable group, and a Certified Scaling Up™ coach. “Eileen has always been that third party, looking at our business from the outside. She’s not only been a great sounding board and confidante, but she also talked me off the ledge a few times,” he adds with a chuckle. “She made sure that we had the most up to date information as well as a plan.”
Managing a Tidal Wave of Need
No surprise, marketing and recruiting for caregivers were the biggest obstacles Joe, Alison and their team had to overcome – especially recruiting virtually. The Franchise (based in Omaha) was busy trying to assemble the appropriate tools to allow franchisees the ability to work through the telecommuting challenges they were now faced with.
“We had to figure it out literally overnight as we have over 85 clients relying on our services to keep them safe. ,” Joe says. “Developing onboarding processes, conducting online interviews using tandem interview pairs, and lots of Zoom meetings,” he adds with a grimace. “That became my #1 priority to oversee.”
And a critically important priority for Right at Home in June and July when people started dying in nursing homes.
Communication and compliance are still our biggest issues. We’ve got to work on those every day.
“That’s when all hell broke loose. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, ‘I don’t want my mom to be there.’ Normally we were getting 6 to 7 inquiries a week. Then, and now, we’re getting 25 to 30 – and unfortunately having to turn down over half of them because we don’t have the people to provide caregiving. 70% of people who died of COVID in PA were in long term care.”
Putting Safety First
To double down on the challenges that faced them, at the same time County government in PA started asking for caregivers to get tested regularly. They didn’t give organizations like Right at Home any access initially to tests, however. “The government subsidized the long-term care facilities,” Joe says, “but gave no assistance to businesses providing homecare to seniors.”
Again, Joe and his team scrambled to acquire the testing resources. Then, created a protocol to be followed with healthcare providers, one of their biggest sources of new clients, so that people would get tested upon exiting hospitals, although the big hospitals pushed back initially.
“Honestly communication and compliance are still our biggest issues. We’ve got to work on those every day. We’ve had a few asymptomatic cases, but our only major case was from a family member who didn’t communicate their exposure. We really can’t let our guard up when it comes to managing compliance.”
Preparing for the Year Ahead
How are they doing at this point almost a year in?
“Well, as you can imagine, marketing dynamics have been great when it comes to acquiring new clients. We’ve been able to be selective. There’s been an explosion of age 85 and older people which is a sweet spot for us, and that population will continue to grow over the next six years. No one wants to go into assisted living if they don’t have to.”
Finding time for planning has been the most challenging part, but we’re making the time because we know it keeps us on track and focused.
And they’re definitely poised for growth. “It was especially helpful to us was when Eileen introduced us to the Flywheel exercise [from Jim Collins] and helped us to get clear on our strategy and determining the critical component of the flywheel to getting it spinning.”
“Our own franchise system has been helpful in sharing new tools for us to use, but we needed closer support, Joe shares, “but CEO Think Tank® has been there for us. Having access to not only Eileen, the members and the resources. Finding time for planning has been the most challenging part, given the constant barrage of information, regulations, and daily emergencies that arise because of the pandemic.”
Their business grew 12% last year according to Joe. “And many of our franchises didn’t,” he adds. “Some even lost a bunch of business. With the help of the PPP and our own daily management of expenses and cash flow, we were able to maintain our margins. Our hope is that if we structure ourselves correctly that we’ll be in good shape for the year.”
The pandemic isn’t over. But Joe, Alison and their team have the right resources and tools, along with support, for success, not just survival, in the year ahead.
Tags: Business advice for the mid-market, Executive Education for Small Business, Overcoming small business challenges