Russ: Welcome back to The BusinessMakers Show. Our topic today: homecare for the elderly. My guest: Kim Tweedel, founder and owner of Advocates for the Independent. Kim, welcome to The BusinessMakers Show.
Kim: Thank you, Russ. Thanks for having me.
Russ: You bet. Tell us about your company.
Kim: Well, Advocates for the Independent is a home care, caregiving agency. We take care of mostly elderly; anybody over 18, but the majority of our clients are elderly or senior citizens, and we help them in the home to live independently, and help keep them out of a nursing home.
Russ: From what I know about the space is it’s a rapidly growing space. All of us baby boomers are getting to the edge and we have parents that are there already. So, I mean, is it a booming industry or is it my imagination?
Kim: No, it is. There is a lot of people, and the statistics are, you know, overwhelming. Every day, somebody turns 65, and that’s true, but normally people, once they get into the late 70’s, early 80’s, before they really start needing assistance. I think right now it’s needed; even in the future it’s going to be even more.
Russ: And how long have you been doing this?
Kim: I’m in my 6th year.
Russ: Ok. Do you like the business?
Kim: Yes, I do. My heart’s in it. I love the elderly; some of them are just as cute as can be, and funny, and they have wonderful stories, and it makes you feel good. You know, you’re doing something with a purpose. You have to take a step back and look at, you know, nobody wants to get old. Nobody wants to get old; they fight it all the time and they don’t want people coming in their house and, but once they let somebody in, they become dependent on it. They form a real bond, and I’ve formed a real bond with a lot of my clients too.
Russ: All right, but they don’t always bond. I mean, it seems to me that it’s kind of a personality matching test sometimes.
Kim: It is, and I do try to set expectations with the family and with the client that sometimes it might take a couple of caregivers before you find that right chemistry. And it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with the caregiver, and it doesn’t mean there was something wrong with that client; it’s sometimes people don’t mesh. And normally we can find somebody that works well with them and sometimes we’re right on the money and we can, we do an assessment, and from that assessment you can kind of pick up the personality, and we know our caregiver, so we can match them pretty good, I think.
Russ: Ok, ok. But that assessment, does that actually include an interview where—
Kim: Yes. What we do is we go and assess them; kind of look at their situation. What kind of care they are going to need; you know, can they transfer themselves; the memory issues; what kind of house that they have; is it accessible to get into the shower; do they have dogs, do they have cats? That makes a big difference because sometimes people don’t—some of the caregivers are scared of dogs, or are allergic to dogs and cats and that type of thing. So all those little things that we kind of look at before we can put the caregiver out there.
Russ: Ok, so I did some research before I came over here and I was probably surprised that it seems like there’s an abundance of regulations. I thought it was maybe more like a baby sitter service and as long as everybody was happy, everybody’s happy. But there is, regulations.
Kim: There is a lot of regulations. We are licensed by the Texas State Department of Aging and Disability. We are surveyed; somebody will show up at our doorstep and ask to see our files and look at all our notes and go visit the clients; ask them questions, make sure that we are, you know, we’re doing what we are supposed to do. But yes, there is a lot of regulations.
Russ: Ok but does that mean if a person was thinking about starting the business and they just said I’m just going to go care for somebody as an individual. Theoretically, they are supposed to be regulated?
Kim: They are supposed to be regulated. There is what is called the private caregivers that go out and try to do it themselves. They’re not really regulated, but if they hire somebody and send them out for them, they are supposed to have a license.
Russ: Ok, all right. Wow, pretty interesting. So, the level of care must vary significantly as do the way we all age, too. So from, you know, I guess mainly just being sort of a companion to around the clock total care?
Kim: Yes, we have some clients that we just go in and visit with them; maybe take them shopping or take them out to different activities, to around the clock, 24-hour care. They might be bed ridden, we might do bed baths, help with the toileting, and we do some RN delegated tasks. The state does give us the option, if we have an RN on staff, we can do some RN delegated tasks like tube feeding, cath care, that type of thing.
Russ: So that takes a real registered nurse, right?
Kim: We have to have—I have several contracts with some registered nurses that we can do those things.
Russ: Ok so you have been doing this a couple of years and we know the market is growing but is competition growing as well?
Kim: Yes, there’s a lot of competition. A lot of people get into this thinking that because—there’s a lot of hype, and I’m sure you’ve heard it about the baby boomers and the tsunami’s, but it’s not a business, it’s not as easy as it’s led to believe. It’s, you know, if it’s ran correctly and then, you know, you’re dealing with the caregivers, you’re dealing with highly stressed people. By the time that they call us, the family is usually stressed out. They’re at their wits end, they’ve got to go to work, their parents can’t live by themselves, you know and there’s this, there’s all these things that you’re trying to wrap your head around. So, it’s a difficult business, but it does have its rewards. I wouldn’t discourage anybody for doing it right now in the city of, in Houston. We don’t really need another home care company at all, but that doesn’t stop the franchises from selling it to people.
Russ: Ok, so the franchises, big franchises, are a competitor.
Kim: Big franchises, yeah. There’s quite a few franchises.
Russ: But have you ever considered taking, you know, your company and selling franchises to do it the way that you do it?
Kim: No. I am considering expansion. I think, myself, that’s my own personal opinion, that somebody really needs—you have to have a medical background, you really need to be in control of things. Franchises, they’re not controlling; it’s everybody is doing their own thing. It’s not really like it’s run by one company, or nobody is really overseeing, because every place is their own boss and they’re basically running it their own way. What I want to do is control and be able to give the quality of care that needs to be done in a certain way.
Russ: All right. So you’re hands on.
Kim: I’m very hands on.
Russ: Ok great. So take us back to the very beginning, Kim. What triggered the idea, hey, I’m going to start this home care business.
Kim: Well, I had a grandmother that was living with me just for a short period after hurricane Rita. And we put her back in her house and she fell the first night home. She was 92; still driving. She fell, damaged her one good eye, couldn’t see, and she started declining and declining. And then she was back at my house at Christmas, ended up in the hospital, from the hospital they put her in a nursing home and I’d go every morning and I’d find her on the floor naked. They weren’t feeding her, it was awful and it was, I want to go home, I want to go home. That’s all I heard from her. So, I got on the internet, tried to find a, basically, a home care type company or somebody to go in and take care of her. There was nobody to be found; I couldn’t find anybody.
So, 4 years later, when I was in a position where I could actually do something, I was looking for something to do and the home care thing came up, I also had ran a dermal medical equipment company back in the 80s and started a company for—started one here in Houston for a company, so I thought, I know what to do. I have the experience and I thought this is it, and I jumped off and did it. So, I don’t regret. A lot of people are like, why would you want to do that?
Russ: Right. Well, it served you well, because you’re a good operator too, and I guess you owe your grandmother a special thank you.
Kim: You know I help with her, I had another grandmother, I stayed with her in her last years; helped with her. I like the elderly, you know. Like I said, I think some of them can be very funny and very entertaining and just, they’re a wealth of knowledge. Some are a little sour, but I mean you know that’s—so is a lot of young people, too.
Russ: That’s right, true. So, tell me about a day in the life of Kim Tweedel.
Kim: I’m conversing with the caregivers about the clients, giving them kind of a background and what they need to do, making sure that they know what their assignment is of the activities of the daily living, that they have to do with them. I also do the marketing; I’m out meeting, doing networking meetings, meeting with hospital discharge planners, the skilled nursing, the social workers. I’m out trying to find new leads, new contacts. I have to make sure that the scheduler has done her job and make sure everybody knows where they need to be. I also have a salesforce that I’m trying to manage on top of it. I’m doing a little bit of everything.
Russ: Ok, you mentioned earlier that you like the elderly, so does that mean in a typical day you might interact with a client?
Kim: Sometimes if, you know, I tell my clients if we, if a caregiver is sick or can’t get there, we will provide care, and I have gone and done it myself. I’ve done it many of days and nights.
Russ: That’s real cool, too. All right, Kim, so before I let you go, share with us what is your best case scenario for Advocates for the Independents, say, five years from now.
Kim: What I’d like to see is branch offices in most major cities in Texas; being able to operate at the level we do, and giving the care, which I think is a premium care, in those cities as we do here in Houston.
Russ: Well, Kim, thank you so much for sharing your story with us and we wish you good luck in the future.
Kim: Thank you, Russ. I appreciate it.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Kim Tweedel, the founder and owner of Advocates for the Independent. And this is The BusinessMakers Show.
brought to you by