Going above and beyond comes naturally for ComForCare franchise owners in North Carolina, who bought an existing franchise and made it their own
ComForCare honors its in-home care franchise owners in many ways throughout the year, including a meaningful awards presentation during its annual conference. Among the tributes handed out last year was the “Present and Engaged” award, a new tribute for an owner or ownership team that exemplifies the attitude that “every day that you care about the success of the organization by being a team player, having a can-do attitude and going the extra mile to fulfill and exceed expectations,” according to ComForCare.
The inaugural recipients, Donna and Dave Abrams, operate ComForCare Winston-Salem. They aren’t just bosses but are team players with their caregivers. That means everything from shared lunches to team-building and collaboration around any problems that come up. Meet the Abrams and learn how they are working to make ComForCare not only a great business, but also a true community asset.
WHAT WERE YOU DOING BEFORE YOU DECIDED TO PURCHASE A COMFORCARE FRANCHISE?
David Abrams: For about a dozen years before we bought this business (from a retiring owner, who founded it in 2009), I marketed electronic health records software to behavioral health agencies around the country. Donna has been a radio-station promotions director, and also has been volunteering for a therapeutic riding center for several years, something that has really been a passion for her.
WHAT LED YOU TO CONSIDER COMFORCARE AS A BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY THAT WAS ALIGNED WITH YOUR GOALS?
A couple of things motivated us to look into in-home care, and subsequently ComForCare. Back in the early 2000s, when Donna’s grandfather passed away, he and her grandmother were in an isolated area of central Florida. They didn’t really have access to health care and transportation, and she also had several medical conditions as well. After he died, we brought her up to North Carolina and helped her get into an independent living community. The first thing she did was get to the hospital and have some surgeries to correct many of her conditions, and then she spent the last four years of her life in a good setting with family close by. We could go and see her any day we wanted, take her to breakfast, listen to her ‘Rosie the Riveter’ stories and so much more. And as her health declined, she was able to have in-home care and eventually hospice care. Seeing what a difference that kind of support makes was a real motivating factor for us.
At the same time, I had been on the road for 15 years with my job, which was supporting copier dealerships and then working in software. I wanted to get off the road, and I was very motivated to purchase my own business and begin building up equity. Based on our interest around in-home services, we began to look at agencies. When we met the owner, who was about to retire, we explored ComForCare more thoroughly and ended up going with the brand.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES YOU FACE AS A FRANCHISE OWNER?
There are a lot of moving parts. After more than 40 years in sales and marketing, we had a good initial impression of what we needed to do in order to grow and manage our way into success. We did that and doubled the agency in size over the past two years since we became owners.
However, we had to learn about managing our expenses. We had to focus and learn on agency management as a part of that growth, so that we could keep staffing expenses under control while also increasing the number of caregivers, for instance. But we did learn that, and it has been a very positive experience as we have learned, and also innovated within, franchise operations. For example, we have also closed a satellite office in a facility that was not profitable. This has allowed us to use our resources in support of in-home placements which represent our core operations and to increase profitability.
WHAT SORTS OF INNOVATIONS DO YOU MEAN?
We were able to create an apprenticeship program and are the only agency in the state to have a PCA to CNA apprenticeship career PATH that brings more entry-level healthcare workers into the workforce and over time helps them to reach their full potential in healthcare. Using funds from the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act, scholarship and internal funding we have trained over 40 PCAs over the last year. Currently, 13 of the PCAs (Personal Care Assistants) that have completed their pre-apprenticeship are currently in various stages of registered apprenticeship. This allows them to earn their CNA (Certified Nursing Aide) certification through the North Carolina state community college system.
We are still early in the development, but our goal is to grow our own employees, and help more people reach their full potential in this industry. And if an employee grows beyond our agency, such as earning their degree in nursing, we celebrate their accomplishments and feel that our reputation as a great employer will bring more great caregivers to us over time.
On the marketing side, we envisioned an alliance between home-care agencies in this area, which has come together and we are now live. The Alliance for Homecare Agencies (AHA!) accepts and distributes referrals from hospitals, home health and hospice agencies. What we can do as a group is far beyond what we could do on our own, and the coordinated strategy means each of us is able to maintain our reputation and visibility in the community.
Our goal is to help those providers prevent re-admissions and other negative outcomes, and we provide one number to reach our alliance, and we direct the referral to the appropriate agency to get started with in-home care. We want to be working with all the health care providers in discharge, so that they are able to have better outcomes and provide better information to the CMS and other organizations who track that.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY YOUR MOST AMBITIOUS GOAL IS?
We want to transform the way in-home care services are delivered so that we are thought of at a higher level. Sometimes what we do is an afterthought, a non-medical service, in the health care structure. We want to be seen as a part of the accountable care organization partnership between care providers and the patients they serve. We want to be seen as a continuing service for them either before or after they leave the hospital in order to maintain population health and remove costs from the healthcare system.
YOU’VE GROWN QUICKLY OVER THE PAST TWO YEARS; WHAT’S THE NEXT PHASE LOOK LIKE?
We want to triple in size from where we began when we assumed ownership, and we are on our way to doing that. We can be a multimillion-dollar agency within the next couple of years, and we can do that by controlling our growth in a way that supports adding employees and services alongside the new business.
We also are continuing to be very engaged with the corporate office, where we were engaged in a task force to evaluate our new business development and operating system software. We also are on a corporate task force around financial performance, so we can learn how to be more profitable as an agency. Engagement with the corporate team has been very positive for us, because they help us learn ways to represent the brand that is very beneficial to us.
We also serve on some boards with regard to health care organizations and partnerships. We reach out to the education system and other sources of employees, so we can be as active and visible as possible. Everything we do is about building more and better relationships.
WHAT WOULD YOU TELL A POTENTIAL NEW OWNER WHO CALLS YOU TO LEARN THE ‘INSIDE SCOOP’?
Call a few, because sometimes it is hard to get them to slow down long enough to take the call! I get asked why this was a good business decision for me, and I share that reasoning. I also tell them to get enough working capital to really manage the business from day one, because cash flow can be a huge issue. If you’re having trouble there, then it’s hard to achieve the goals you set for yourself.
I would also tell them to work on different ways to generate referrals. Be very aware of where business comes from and build the relationships that will help you grow the business. You want business from everywhere: word of mouth, the internet, facilities, geriatric care managers…anywhere you can reach out, do so.
Also, my wife and I are equal partners, and we have different responsibilities. I could not do this alone, so if you can partner with a spouse, or have a business affiliate, I very much recommend that team approach.