By Mark Morris
Back in 2003, Sina Holloman discovered she loved working with seniors in a one-on-one setting. That passion eventually inspired her to start HomeCare Hands, one of the fastest-growing homecare agencies in Western Mass.
Initially trained as a nurse, Holloman was looking to make a career change and began to work privately for several families in an elder-care role.
“I managed all aspects of the senior’s care from mental, physical, financial, everything that had an impact on the individual,” Holloman said. “I did that for several years, then decided to try my hand at business.”
In 2013, she stayed up many nights with her laptop computer studying how to start a home-care agency, how to understand the needs of the community, and what it means to be a woman in business.
After several months, she took out a “tiny ad” in the Reminder offering in-home care for seniors, listing her cell phone as the contact.
“That first call had me jumping for joy,” she said. Her elation was quickly replaced with concern when she heard the specific demands of the assignment. Located in Southington, Conn., this family needed a live-in caregiver for three months for their loved one. The family specified they wanted a mature person, which they defined as 45 to 55 years old, and this person must speak Italian.
“That was our first call,” Holloman said. While uncertain she could find someone to meet all those criteria, she made it work, and the three-month assignment lasted a year.
“We know this is more than a business — these are lives we’re responsible for. We come to work to take care of folks and to make sure caregivers and clients alike are getting what they need.”
“This was our first client, first caregiver, first anything,” she said. “Since then, we’ve built on that success and haven’t stopped.”
These days, HomeCare Hands boasts more than 200 caregivers and employees. Headquartered in Springfield, the agency has offices in Northampton, Greenfield, Boston, and Hartford, with coverage extending to communities surrounding those locations.
While providing caregivers for the home remains its core business, HomeCare Hands has also branched out as a staffing agency for hospitals, assisted-living communities, and other medical facilities.
The arrival of the pandemic aggravated an already-challenging situation with healthcare staffing.
“We saw the needs during the worst of the pandemic and asked how we could help,” said Angie Thornton, marketing coordinator for HomeCare Hands. “The answer was to do something about the lack of staff in all these facilities.”
Achieving this level of growth, diversity, and reputation within a highly competitive market has not come easily. Overall, Holloman attributes the company’s success to going the extra mile when it comes to helping the caregivers they hire — quite literally, as we’ll see — and finding creating ways to meet client needs.
“We know this is more than a business — these are lives we’re responsible for,” she said. “We come to work to take care of folks and to make sure caregivers and clients alike are getting what they need.”
At Home with the Idea
It was not so long ago that Holloman developed a formal business plan for HomeCare Hands and faced constant rejection from banks and other avenues of funding.
“As a result, we have no government contracts, and we have no debt,” she said. “We have no back-up plan, and we run on grit.”
It was with this grit and that aforementioned passion for working with seniors that Holloman started her business from a small office on Main Street in Springfield in 2015. After a number of years, as the business grew, she moved to new quarters on State Street. In October, HomeCare Hands took over a larger space that she knows is already too small for their future plans.
The office staff at HomeCare Hands, which has branched out beyond home care and become a staffing agency for hospitals and other facilities as well.
“We’re now looking for our own building,” she said. “We need the extra space because we continue to grow and we are hoping to open a CNA training school in 2022.”
How HomeCare Hands has grown so quickly and profoundly is an intriguing business story, one about a company adapting to meet merging needs and diversifying to find new ways to not only generate revenue, but serve seniors and area healthcare providers.
And in many ways, the company has the right services at the right time.
Indeed, demand for in-home senior services has seen huge growth simply because of demographics. U.S. Census figures show nearly 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, a trend expected to continue until 2030.
On top of that growth, Holloman said more people are looking for home-care services since the pandemic. Meanwhile, concern for personal safety has reduced the number of available healthcare workers, as many will no longer work in medical facilities or in people’s homes.
All this has made the pandemic a time of both opportunity and challenge.
At the height of the pandemic, clients and families were cancelling in-home services, and caregivers were as hard to find as many of the supplies needed to keep them safe. Holloman worried about her agency’s survival.
“When we didn’t have enough coverage, our whole management team got into scrubs and went to see clients,” she said. “We also made our own hand sanitizer and other supplies when they were hard to get.”
As they worked through the many challenges of the pandemic, HomeCare Hands gradually placed caregivers, as well as certified nursing assistants and home health aides, for their clients. Recruitment is an ongoing process because the need for staffing never stops.
“We have become the go-to agency for those who are not able to find professionals to meet their needs,” Thornton said, adding that the phone keeps ringing because of solid word-of-mouth referrals.
One key to the company’s success is its willingness to work with caregivers to help them succeed in their jobs with matters such as transportation.
“When necessary, we will pick up our caregivers for their shift and bring them back home. If they are willing to work, we will make sure to support them.”
Agencies commonly require in-home workers to have a dependable vehicle as a job requirement. That’s not an unreasonable demand because clients live in many different areas, most of which are not on a bus line.
Nicole Grimes, chief operating officer for HomeCare Hands, heard about caregivers who were willing to work but had no means to get to people’s homes. This challenge led to the company creating what she called a transportation division.
“When necessary, we will pick up our caregivers for their shift and bring them back home. If they are willing to work, we will make sure to support them,” she explained, adding that, while she will drive caregivers herself in a pinch, this service is offered only until the caregiver can get back on their feet and afford their own car.
Meanwhile, in-home work often requires someone to cover limited hours for only a few days a week. That can be difficult for caregivers seeking a full-time paycheck. Grimes works with caregivers to schedule multiple shifts for those who want more hours. It’s all part of helping people succeed and become independent.
“Caregivers know they can come to us, even for personal matters such as finding an apartment or help with arranging childcare,” she said.
Making that extra effort is all part of the culture Holloman wants to build.
“We take time to get to know each caregiver who joins us,” she told BusinessWest. “When people come here, we want them to stay and be part of the team.”
To help clients and caregivers feel safe, Thornton said vaccinations are a must.
“Anyone new who joins us must be vaccinated,” she noted. “At this point, none of our clients wants someone in their home unless they are vaccinated.”
Because the need for services can often occur outside of business hours, Holloman and her team rotate who is on call to provide 24/7 coverage.
“It could be a Saturday afternoon and someone calls us because they just visited their mom or dad and realize they need services, but don’t know what to do,” she said. “We are there so they don’t have to wait until Monday to get answers to their questions.”
On Jan. 1, HomeCare Hands will celebrate its seventh anniversary. Holloman reflected on the challenging, scary, and ultimately satisfying journey so far. “In 2015, I was asking, ‘how am I going to do this?’ and now, as we approach 2022, I’m asking, ‘OK, what are we doing next?’”
Needless to say, she will answer that question with creativity, enthusiasm, and, yes, a healthy amount of grit.