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Hitting a home run Featured

6:18am EDT November 23, 2005
By any standard, Etelka Froymovich, president of Home Services Unlimited Inc., is a business success.

With 230 employees and $10 million in annual revenue, the company she launched in 1997 — her second successful venture in the health care field - is recognized as one of the premier providers of such services in the Indianapolis area.

But what this immigrant from Ukraine is most proud of is the quality of care that her agency delivers to its patients, much of it attributable to the low staff turnover it’s been able to sustain. The secret to holding onto staff in an industry with a high employee churn rate, she says, is not all that different from the secret to retaining clients: Treat them with respect, dignity and compassion.

An attractive package of benefits and competitive salaries for all employees help to retain staff — her physical therapist and occupational therapist, for example, have been with the company since she started it. But making sure that she communicates her vision for patient care and lives it herself, she says, is at least as important as the compensation her employees receive.

Smart Business talked with Froymovich about how a committed vision and the right work force built a successful home health agency.

How was Home Services Unlimited able to break even its first year in business, even though you were projected to lose money?
I think it was because we were all hands-on supervisors, No. 1. No. 2, at every meeting with my employees, we had goals that we needed to accomplish for the week, for the month.

We also shared our financial reports with them. Having people that are key employees in an agency involved in the planning, involved in the financial piece as well so they know when the agency is struggling, making money or when it needs to take a different approach, really helps to make everyone aware that it’s a team effort.

What has been the key component in making Home Services Unlimited a success?
I think it all comes from the values that we have as an agency, the values that the people have in the agency, from treating people with respect and treating people with compassion. A lot of our referrals come by word of mouth.

From a business perspective, we’ve been able to keep our overhead very, very low. I have been involved from hiring to training to making visits to the home if we need to.

What inspired you to start your own home health agency?
When I came to this country 27 years ago, I found employment in a nursing home. I worked there for about 12 years. I spent so many years and witnessed many people brought into nursing homes and left there by family.

In many situations, it was very sad. People did not want to live out the end of their lives in a nursing home. They did not get the attention that they would get in their home. It was heartbreaking.

My parents were Holocaust survivors. I never knew my grandparents. Many people who were there could have been my grandparents.

It’s very sad when the focus of their day becomes mealtime. Some families visited, some families didn’t. Some didn’t have families. When I had the opportunity to do something that I thought would help individuals live out their lives in their own homes, it was a wonderful thing for me.

We, as professionals, we know parts of people. We dissect people in a way. ... What I saw was an opportunity to treat that person as a whole person, taking a patient-centered approach.

The home care nurse has the opportunity to put together all those pieces for the patient, being able to communicate to the physicians and keep the patient in their own surroundings, yet receive all the care that they need. As the home care provider, you bring services to the patient; they don’t have to go out and seek those services.

What was your guiding principle when you started Home Services Unlimited?
I had a goal ... to pursue excellence in home health care. The adversities that I had to endure prior to coming to the U.S. helped me to overcome some of the challenges when I entered the home care industry.

It also helped me to instill in the employees the values that I had. What was important to me was that we treat each individual, no matter what, with dignity and respect, and treat them as an individual human being.

My vision was to take a patient-centered approach and develop an agency that would pride itself on excellence in providing home health services.

How do you foster that concept in your employees?
It starts with the interview. When a prospective employee enters the building, we always have had a receptionist that could pick up very subtle qualities in people that may fit or may not fit our industry.

Then we go through the interview process. I have interviewed the employees myself and I still do. I want to know where they’re coming from, what is important to them, and I explain what is important to us.

Then we put the employee through a training process, and only then do we send them out into the field. I always ask employees certain questions to find out what they would do in certain situations, what care they would want for their loved one. We try to teach our employees to do what some of the hospitality services do; those things are important.

Just listen. It’s very important to elderly people because many times they’re lonely.

How do you ensure that that is, in fact, what’s occurring in the field?
Many times I will call people personally after we admit them to our services to see how things are going. We send out surveys. We send out nurses who will go into our clients’ homes to find out if they are happy with our service or not.

We do announced and unannounced visits for the same purpose. Staying in touch with our patients is very important to us.

How do you maintain a high employee retention rate?
When I was in my master’s program, I wrote my paper on turnover. I worked in a nursing home. I saw very high turnover rates.

What I found out through my research was that it wasn’t the money that kept employees. It was that special touch, it was that personal connection that they felt with their leadership, with their organization, with their supervisor. I send birthday cards to our employees, flowers to them when they are sick.

I believe that if you treat your employees with respect, with dignity, with compassion, they will pass that along to your patients and therefore, everyone wins.

How does your compensation package compare to what your competitors offer?
We don’t necessarily pay more than other agencies do. We stay competitive in the market as far as our employees. Many health care agencies have a policy of offering their professional staff one set of benefits, their home health aides, the direct care staff, another set of benefits.

Many home care agencies do not cover all of their employees under their health insurance plan. From the beginning, it was very important to me that each individual employee was treated equally. Therefore, we covered people from the home health aide to the director of nursing, and they all had the same benefits.

How important is it to have a genuine passion for your business?
I think it’s very, very important. I’ve seen people enter the health care field with the goal of making money. If you do not have the knowledge it takes, if you do not have the vision that you can instill in your staff, if you do not have the compassion, the understanding toward the people you serve, in my opinion, you’re doomed to failure.

How to reach: Home Services Unlimited Inc., www.home-services-unlimited.com