“We’re in that generation that is now caring for our parents,” says Gilmartin, president and CEO of Sunrise, Fla.-based Interim HealthCare Inc., the nation’s oldest health care franchisor. “And I see the technology driving a lot of care that will be. You’ve got this whole surge of baby boomers that are going to demand more [health] care at home…They’re going to be driving a lot of policy and insurers by being incented and motivated to do more care at home.”

Health care can now be delivered in the home easier than ever before, thanks to advancing technology and a growing demand for health care services. But the rise in the demand for home health care also places significant pressure on home care providers such as Interim HealthCare, which must continually adapt on both fronts in order to stay competitive and effectively serve a new generation of clients with diverse needs.

“The challenge over the last four years is the speed of change,” Gilmartin says. “We’re in an industry that is changing very quickly — home care, personal care, hospice and health care staffing. Pick one. There have certainly been changes in any one of those areas of our business.

“It puts a lot more on providers to accelerate what they’re doing. It isn’t a time to say, ‘We’re just fine the way we are.’ It’s going to be a case of, ‘We’ve got to do more and probably do it at a faster clip.’”

Since rejoining Interim HealthCare in 2008 — she first left the company when split off from a larger health care entity in 1997 — Gilmartin has worked on positioning the company and its network of 300 franchised locations in 43 states at the forefront of the home care evolution. Here’s how she is doing it.

Avoid ‘vision creep’

When Gilmartin came on as CEO in 2008, Interim HealthCare was in the process of transitioning to a 100 percent franchised company. The change came as company leaders looked for a way to streamline the focus on supporting franchises. Eventually, that meant doing away with all of the company-owned locations.

Founded in 1966, Interim HealthCare is the only home care franchisor with a model that delivers health care services from personal care and support to hospice services. This involves a broad spectrum of business areas. So as the company shifted to a 100 percent franchised model, Gilmartin also discovered a number of business lines that no longer made sense under the new model.

“It’s not unusual when you have companies that have close to 50 years of history that they start out and they grow, and as they grow, things get a little bit more complex and spread out,” Gilmartin says.

“You think that you’re focused on something, but you don’t realize that other things have sort of grown up inside of that. Sometimes they’re on the periphery. Sometimes they’ve been there so long that you get a scotoma, where you just don’t see what’s right in front of you. You have a blind spot to it.”

Gilmartin calls this “the vision creep.” What begins as a small investment gradually takes up more and more support, resources or time. Over years or decades, it may even start to take away resources from critical areas of business.

Innovation, while beneficial, can be one of the biggest culprits of vision creep. The same muscles that lead you to innovate can send you in directions that cause your company to stray from its core strengths. For example, investing in innovation led Interim HealthCare to develop its own IT system and a technology platform geared specifically for delivering home health care services. But Gilmartin and the company’s leaders soon found that an IT operation was an unjustified cost.

“We don’t have the DNA of being an IT company,” Gilmartin says. “We have the DNA of providing health care services in the home and providing health care personnel to facilities that need them.”

Instead of funding a whole division to support its IT platform, Gilmartin and her team decided it was a better investment to find a partner to handle its IT. In 2011, the company handed off the division to health care IT firm Procura for continued development.

“That care and feeding is probably being sacrificed from something else,” Gilmartin says. “So you always have to be sure that you look yourself in the eye and say, ‘This is our primary focus. This is what we do best. This is what we want to be doing for our constituents and stakeholders.’ Anything that doesn’t fit in that picture you have to be willing to say the time has come.”

The same went for the other “clutter” accumulated under the old model. Before long, Gilmartin was able to find homes for all of the business lines that weren’t synergistic with the 100 percent franchised structure.

One way to spot vision creep is by constantly asking, “Am I getting the best output in all areas?” or, “Are we getting the results we want?” If you’re not hitting on all cylinders, you need to step back and do some mining with your management team, board and equity partners, Gilmartin says.

When you are able to have those difficult conversations and to look objectively at each area of your business, you free yourself to bring even more leverage to your core competencies.

“You suddenly have this renewed energy, and you feel like, ‘Oh my goodness, we have more resources than we thought because some were being diverted or distracted getting these projects done,” Gilmartin says.

“It was being able to take the clutter out of the picture so that you see very clearly who you are, what your mission and purpose is and what is ultimately our ‘hedgehog,’ which [for us] is knowing that we want to be the most successful ‘continuum of care’ franchisor.”

Lay down a path

In most industries, it’s not enough anymore to respond to the market. Leaders of great companies don’t just evaluate change; they are in a regular cycle of changing all the time, always asking “What’s coming next?”

However, the key to driving proactive change across a large organization — Interim HealthCare employs more than 40,000 health care workers — is to balance the urgency of wanting to see change happen with the patience of recognizing that some changes take time to spread and be adopted by employees.

“Like a Rubik’s Cube — it would be one of those mental challenges of how do you keep the moving pieces and how do you get them to be at the right place at the right time?” Gilmartin says.

“Do franchisees have the information? Are we training them? Do they have the support? When I think of what makes this business tick and be successful, it’s people, but it’s people across a number of moving pieces.”

Essentially, the nature of care at home is that it’s a very personal service. Yet much has changed in the way that service is delivered. Ten years ago, there was no automation. But today, health care providers use point-of-care devices such as tablets, laptops and smartphones to capture patient interactions and electronic data in real time. This emerging technology is also a valuable tool for leaders such as Gilmartin to help drive change at all levels of their organizations.

In addition to traveling year-round to visit different franchise locations, which includes home care visits with nurses and meetings at the franchise and regional level, Gilmartin utilizes technology to stay connected and to find out what staff and management need to be successful, whether it’s training, support or technology resources.

“Every stakeholder has a nugget of wisdom or inspiration that leaders need to constantly be gathering,” Gilmartin says. “I sometimes look at our key leader group or key franchise group and think that the loudest and the biggest have it all right. But what I’ve done a better job of, and every leader can do better, is to communicate more and use lots of media in how you communicate … using the technologies of email and Skype and FaceTime but also including more voices that help shape the future rather than fewer voices.”

Once you have a clear destination in mind, making progress comes down to working closely with members of your team to get there.

“Some groups may have been doing certain pieces of health care for 20 years, but they recognize now that they have patients who require services that they haven’t done and would like to,” Gilmartin says. “We will train them in that and bring them through all the additional certification, training, hiring and actual management of how to do that business … so they can do it just as well as they’ve done all the other parts of the franchise.

“If you’re true to what the core of your company is, you’ll always be innovating better processes, better programs and, in our case, go to the next level of care delivery,” Gilmartin says. “That’s what has to be continually inspired and perspired, because there is a lot of sweat that goes with change.”

Helping its franchises continually adapt and grow has continued to pay off for Interim HealthCare. In 2011, the company generated $740 million of network revenue while maintaining one of the highest employee retention records in the industry — its average employee tenure is 18 years.

“People often think of return on investment first as financial, but there are also stakeholders of our patients and our caregivers and our management team — all of the people who work in our individual franchises,” Gilmartin says. “It’s taking those three circles, and if you bring those together, you can crystallize where those overlap and that keeps you focused. It keeps you rooted in, ‘Is every initiative we’re doing helping reinforce that?’ And success is the result.” ?

How to reach: Interim Healthcare Inc., (800) 338-7786 or www.interimhealthcare.com

 

The Gilmartin File

Kathleen Gilmartin

President and CEO

Interim Healthcare Inc.

Born: Buffalo, N.Y.

Education: D’Youville College

What do traits you look for in an employee?

There are many things you can overcome with training and knowledge, but if people don’t have the right caring and have a leaning to ‘I want to be in this business because I like health care and I choose health care to apply my business skills to’ — it’s not a right fit for everybody. I can tell you from new franchise development we’ve had franchise prospects come in and they are genuinely nice people. By the time we’re meeting them we’ve had a phone relationship, they’ve gone through initial screening, they’ve done homework; but there are times where we have the discovery day to meet us … they don’t necessarily recognize that caring for people is a 24/7 commitment. It includes holidays. It includes vacations.

What’s next for Interim HealthCare?

I see us being in a real growth mode because we’ve clarified we’re 100 percent franchised. We’ve got new franchises that we’re back selling and starting and feeding the forest in places where we haven’t had franchises. We have some very, very large franchises that have been building their infrastructure and working on management and succession planning because the business is getting bigger and more complex. I think home care has come of age.

If you could have dinner with one person you’ve never met, who would it be and why?

That’s easy, Bill Gates. He spent three decades creating products and services at Microsoft that changed how we operate businesses and manage our lives. Then he put his creativity and capital to work to eradicate disease in Africa and other parts of the globe. It would be a fascinating dinner to pick his brain and learn what makes him tick.

What do you to regroup on a tough day?

In any leadership role you have incredibly high days and rock bottom low days. The key is to keep the mental snapshots of the great days front and center so you don’t lose focus or faith on the bad days. The bookcase in my office also has photos I love of my family and friends to remind me not to take myself too seriously.

Published in Florida