OEN interviewed 2023 Development Stage Entrepreneurship Award Winner HelloCare to learn what inspired this compassionate caregiving company. Read on to see how founder Helen Anderson envisioned a different path for seniors to safely and comfortably age in their homes.
So tell us about the history of your business.
In 2019, I was working as a nurse in an assisted living community, my role was to go to homes and assess potential new residents. The older folks I was seeing were often independent until suffering a fall or a stroke. Their family couldn’t meet the increased care requirements and moving out of the home and into assisted living was the only option. Their goal to age in place, with the people and things most important to them, was now out of reach. Grief in these conversations is palpable, the older adult expressing it similarly, “I want to stay home, but I just can’t ask any more of my family.”
At the time, I was not in a mindset to start a new company, but I couldn’t ignore the need for reliable home care. Throughout my 18-year nursing career I met many wonderful caregivers and knew they could help these seniors stay at home with the care they needed. In their current jobs, these caregivers were underpaid and under appreciated. The idea for HelloCare began to coalesce.
In November 2019 I filed my business registration with the SOS. I let my local hospital know I was starting an in-home care agency. They sent me the most difficult patients, I cared for them on the weekends and after work. In February 2020, I attended a Launch Mid-Valley Start-Up Bootcamp weekend. HelloCare won the Pitchfest and several hours of accounting, marketing and legal advising.
The confidence boost and validation resulting from winning the Pitchfest was immeasurable. I was preparing to leave my full-time job and go all-in on HelloCare. Then March 2020 happened, delaying my departure by nearly a year as I led my team through COVID. During the week I was occupied with keeping my residents and staff safe and filling the nurse leader position at senior living communities devastated by COVID. Weekends were for my HelloCare clients as I continued to build relationships with referral partners. I learned by doing – how to care for people in homes, the challenges of family dynamics and other lessons too numerous to list.
The pandemic highlighted the risks of seniors living in large community buildings with a rotating staff roster, families wanted to explore other options for care. The exodus of staff, the overwhelming of those who remained also helped me understand how to care for my team and the limitations of a rigid corporate structure. HelloCare could serve both groups, seniors and caregivers with a new set of options for living and working.
By October 2020, I was able to safely leave my residents in the care of another nurse, trained and prepared to meet the challenges of COVID. I could focus on HelloCare full time – understanding the sales cycle, customer needs, pricing, and the big question of how to build a team. I needed a plan for making care delivery a scalable business model with a differentiator. In-home care is not a new service, the big players have existed in their current form since the early 1990s, yet huge gaps in the market exist. From my perspective the missing piece of the puzzle is trained, local caregivers. People in the community, caring for other people in their community. This would be the HelloCare model and how we would differentiate our brand.
We are intentionally growing slowly, at a manageable pace to focus on hiring and training the right people. HelloCare has 3 thriving locations with a plan to add 3 more in 2023. I brought on 2 new partners, Kristy Runge and Bryan Hockett. Kristy is a nurse as well; she brings a group of dedicated staff plus her organizational skills to the team. Bryan has a tech background and shares our mindset of investing in the care team.
What kind of impact does HelloCare have on the community?
Our impact is two-fold. HelloCare, at nearly 100 employees is a primary employer in Yamhill County. Competition for great caregivers has never been fiercer and we want to win at recruiting and retention every team member, every time. Understanding the challenges of the typical caregiver has allowed us to cater our compensation and benefits to meet their needs. Free child care, gas cards, interest-free payday loans, generous PTO, care packages on sick days create a culture of trust and care. When a caregiver chooses HelloCare they are welcomed into an environment that allows them to show up as their best selves for their clients.
The second impact group is seniors and families. Our nurse-led team monitors clients for changes that put them at risk for poor health or hospitalization. The care team is also monitored for training needs or other nurse support. A trained, consistent care team can provide better care for seniors and brings stability to complex situations. People of advanced age may not fully recover from illness or accidents, resulting in a lower functional baseline and reduced quality of life. Preventing these adverse events are key to maintaining independence – nursing oversight, skilled caregivers and consistency of care make it possible to age in place.
The senior population is growing, this is news to no one. Rising rents, food and gas prices are putting pressure on our caregivers and their families, especially single parent households. HelloCare makes caregiving an inviting, sustainable career path with great compensation and benefits. We attract a diverse age group – HelloCare may be the first step on a health care career ladder or a sunset career after retirement. Bringing new people to caregiving, growing this workforce impacts our community in positive ways by easing the caregiver shortage and building the healthcare workforce from the bottom up.
Technology is coming in Q2 with a new program aimed at the middle- and lower-income senior market. The big problem we are trying to solve is the cost of care. Many people just can’t afford it, although it is desperately needed. This is a vast market and we need to capture more of it with creative programs. HelloCare is not the only company working on this problem, but we are well positioned with a motivated, dedicated team. I am optimistic we can meet the needs of all the stakeholders.
HelloCare can accept VA benefits, and our Medicaid contract is pending. We have been invited to submit RFPs for state and federal in-home care programs. Diversifying our payers is in process and ongoing.
HelloCare will continue to develop our training programs – allowing our caregivers to take on more complex clients. We find eager learners in our ranks and will provide opportunities and career pathways to acquire more knowledge and skills. Offering more freedom for promotion within HelloCare as we open new territories and lines of service.
Our new programs will serve more seniors and provide opportunities for new members to join the HelloCare team. We are excited for the new year and ready to embrace the challenges coming our way!