For senior living operators looking to diversify their services offerings, home-based care has emerged as a lucrative opportunity.
No organization understands this more than Bickford Senior Living, a senior living operator that teamed up with the HomeCare Advocacy Network (HCAN) to roll out a home-based care service line in June.
HCAN is an Omaha, Nebraska-based company that offers a business format to senior living operators looking to add home care services to their business. Mark Goetz, HCAN’s president and CEO, believes that the COVID-19 emergency has underscored the need for senior living operators to have a thriving business both on and off-campus.
“For years, it was this bifurcated system where you had providers that were in the community, and then they would refer people into the senior living community,” Goetz said at the Home Health Care News Home Care Conference. “The pandemic showed that this business can go away relatively quickly. We’ve seen a lot of interest [in home care].”
That’s where HCAN comes in. Aside from Bickford, HCAN counts American Baptist Homes of the Midwest as a partner. Plus, HCAN is currently in talks to form partnerships with roughly 13 different senior living operators, according to Goetz.
For Bickford, which saw its occupancy rate go down 6% due to the public health emergency, it made strategic and operational sense to move into the home-based care space for the synergistic opportunities.
“We all know that people are aging much more,” Colleen Lesher, divisional director at Bickford of St. Charles, said during the event. “They want to stay home. Nobody says, ‘Let me sell all my things and move into a home that’s the size of my bedroom.’ From a business standpoint, Bickford is trying to capture that funnel earlier, … We want to capture the percentage of people that we’re not even seeing until later down the line after everything else has been exhausted.”
Founded in 1992, Olathe, Kansas-based Bickford Senior Living provides care for more than 3,000 residents in 65 locations.
Bickford’s expectation of attracting this funnel of clients lines up with what Goetz has seen.
“If [a senior living organization] is already taking care of, say, 100 local clients, we know from our research about 85% of them have a high likelihood to move into [the company’s] senior living community,” he said.
Bickford isn’t alone in its latest endeavor. More than half of the U.S.’s largest nonprofit senior living organizations offer some sort of home- and community-based services, according to the annual LZ 200 list.
Aside from the opportunity to widen the client pool, entering into the home-based care business makes financial sense. Generally, the cost to launch and operate a home care business is far less than senior living.
“We can usually get a senior living operator to break even [on home care] within three to six months of their doors opening,” Goetz said.
Despite the potential upsides, there are still challenges for senior living operators looking to get into the home-based care game. For one, senior living operators will need to shift from a primarily real estate-based organization to a more service-oriented one.
“Home care is not going to operate the same way your senior living community system does,” Goetz said. “You have to start with the right wages, the right prices, and you have to hit a certain margin on those.”
One challenge Bickford Senior Living had to navigate was mastering the scheduling process for home-based caregivers.
“If you are coming from senior living, we all hate scheduling – it’s hard,” Lesher said. “If you get a 24-hour case, you need to find four caregivers. It’s not just one job and somebody is not overseeing it.”
Additionally, Bickford Senior Living faces the usual issues its home-based care peers face, such as finding the right caregivers. Overall, Lesher believes working with HCAN has prepared them for these learning curves.
Ultimately, Bickford Senior Living has positioned itself to increase access to care earlier for the communities it serves.
“We’re able to help them sooner and educate them,” Lesher said. “Most families don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t know what to ask. The sooner we can start talking, [the sooner] we can be there every step of the way, instead of just when they’re in crisis mode.”