Betty Davis once said, "Old age ain't no place for sissies." As baby boomers and the parents for whom they're often responsible for get older, Davis' words ring more and more true.
Despite this, however, seniors fight hard to maintain their independence. The idea of moving into an assisted living facility or nursing home unless it's absolutely necessary is an anathema to most. As a result, there have been a wellspring of home care agencies that provide non-medical services.
Manchester's Debbie Fick has witnessed the emergence of the home care industry first hand, having worked for two home care franchises over many years. But she was never happy with what she observed.
"I didn't like the compromises made in caring for clients. The elderly deserve dignity and respect," Fick says. "They need consistency in the people who care for them; one person, or at most two, who can notice changes in their health, routines and the like. The industry leaders tend to cut corners, use inexperienced staff and send a merry-go-round of caregivers."
Encouraged by a friend, Carita Eugene, to contact SCORE and explore the possibility of starting her own agency, Fick was connected with Richard Clough of SCORE's Merrimack Valley Chapter in April 2011. Clough helped her develop business and marketing plans, a way to position the business so it could secure financing after two years (banks are generally unwilling to provide loans to businesses without a two-year track record), and most important, encouraged her to pursue her dream.
"Debbie may have been a bit short of money, but she had a good idea, a sound plan, and most of all, a passion to succeed," Clough said.
Armed with $5,000 of her own money and operating out of her home, Keeping Families First opened for business on Jan. 15, 2012. Within two weeks Fick had secured her first client and she's never looked back.
Today, Keeping Families First has 35 employees and an equal number of clients, and operates out of leased space in the East Point Executive Center in Bedford. Serving an area from Concord to Nashua and Raymond to Goffstown, the company provides anything and everything non-medical that allows people to remain in their home: companionship and socialization, safety supervision, meal preparation, medication reminders, personal hygiene assistance, assistance with ambulation and transfers, light housekeeping and laundry, range of motion exercises, transportation for appointments or errands, even pet care, if needed—24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Keeping Families First has also pursued relationships with community businesses that offer services of importance to its clients — insurance, legal, financial, ecumenical, hospice and more — and is able to make referrals when necessary.
"If our clients need something, we want to be able to help them find it," Fick says. In addition, Keeping Families First has begun offering workshops for the community on topics such as Alzheimer's, legal and financial issues, and dealing with grief.
Fick's success hasn't been without its challenges, though.
"It's hard to find qualified people with experience in taking care of the elderly," she says. "And finances are always difficult; there are always unexpected expenses. Branding is also a challenge without the money of a large franchise. But revenues are growing and we're profitable."
And with Keeping Families First's second anniversary approaching, Fick is optimistic about the prospect of securing financing to further grow and expand. Ultimately she hopes to franchise the business, "but without sacrificing the small, family-owned touch."
Fick is grateful to SCORE's Clough "for all your sound advice and encouragement." Sadly, Carita, the friend who pushed her to start the business, passed away not long ago. "She was very proud of what we've accomplished and that we continue to honor the pledge we make to all our clients: 'You don't become part of our company — you become part of our family!'"
For more information about Keeping Families First, log on to www.keepingfamiliesfirstnh.com or contact Debbie Fick at 232-7421.
This column is brought to you by the Merrimack Valley Chapter of SCORE, with nearly 70 current and former business executives available to provide free, confidential, one-on-one business mentoring and training workshops for area businesses. Call 666-7561 or visit merrimackvalley.score.org for information on mentoring, upcoming workshops and volunteer opportunities. SCORE is a national, nonprofit organization and a resource partner of the U. S. Small Business Administration.