strong roots

By Tim Murray, Aware Senior Care

In early March, as the COVID-19 virus began to take hold in communities across the country, it quickly became evident that senior citizens were one of the most vulnerable populations facing the health crisis.

Nursing homes faced higher than average mortality rates for their residents, and media reports noted that home care agencies were experiencing fall-out as caregivers resigned, afraid of exposing themselves to the virus while at work.

While home care agencies across the country reported that business was going down and employees were resigning, Aware Senior Care saw the opposite effect. Our business doubled in size since this time last year and continues to grow.

Adjusting to the Stay at Home Mandate

In early March, as we anticipated North Carolina moving toward social distancing and requiring its “stay at home” mandate, we enhanced our business model to enable remote operations; communicated clearly about the anticipated “stay at home” mandate with our employees, outlining how we intended to maintain operations; trained our caregivers on COVID-19 and how to care for clients; and we took our community outreach strategy online with Zoom webinars, forming our “Team Elder Care” group and delivering a a 6-part virtual webinar series focused on caregiving for families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We share our success not to gloat over our competitors’ while they struggle to maintain operations but to share the secret sauce to our success, despite living and working through a historic event like this global pandemic. What’s our secret? It is making people – not your profits – your bottom-line goal.

Caregivers Are Valuable Assets, Not Commodities

Unfortunately, in the home health care industry, many agencies traditionally see caregivers as a commodity to be used as needed and then discarded, rather than a significant and valuable investment for their business.

In this model, caregivers come and go. Quality care is questionable at best, and clients are often unhappy with the services they receive.

Across the industry, home health care workers are also dramatically underpaid, so when a crisis like COVID-19 emerges, these front-line home health workers are some of the first to leave their jobs because they don’t feel the rewards of their work outweigh the risk of contracting the illness themselves.

Despite national trends within the caregiver industry, at the beginning of the outbreak, we had just two of our more than 130 caregivers step down due to concerns about their personal safety. And more than six weeks into the crisis, we’ve hired more than 25 new caregivers and counting.

Planting Roots in “Normal” Times to Withstand a Crisis

I’ve shared the analogy of the oak tree many times to our staff over the past few months. When you plant a tree and lovingly tend to it for many years, it grows a deep, healthy root system. When the storm comes, it will bend, but it won’t break.

As the healthy tree grows, it will blossom and produce fruit. An immature tree with shallow roots won’t be able to weather the storm and will ultimately die away.

Similarly, before this pandemic, there were agencies who didn’t care for their staff. Pay was low, benefits were minimal and caregivers often felt underappreciated.

Now, these same agencies are facing employee shortages, staffing issues, and operations challenges. As a small, family-owned business, successfully weathering the COVID-19 storm is a direct result of working consistently over the past five years to build strong employee roots.

Since the first day we started this business, my wife, Gina, and I have focused on hiring and retaining top-notch people. There is no home care business without great caregivers.

This became the foundation of our team philosophy, and we incorporated this into our recruitment and employee appreciation efforts. Caregivers first. Always.

Our team is dedicated to this work, and they know they have our full support. They’ve been riding headfirst into the storm with us, and we’ve been working to serve our clients every day to the best of our ability.

This “service above self” attitude has been evident in ways large and small throughout this crisis. In mid-March, we started daily, seven-minute stand-up meetings with our office staff, discussing the pandemic, new developments and most importantly, setting a plan for that day.

We communicated with our caregiving staff at least twice a week by text and email on important pandemic related items. Our staff always said “How are you doing?” to anyone who called our office, expressing our concern for individuals and their families.

During the first week of April, I hand wrote to each of our 120 caregivers, thanking them and enclosed a ribbon. We encouraged them to add it to their company badge that said, “Aware Home Care Hero.”

In the first week of May, the office staff wrote handwritten cards to caregivers thanking them, and we enclosed a $50 dollar bill as a thank you. Finally, starting in May, we implemented a special hourly pay bonus called “extraordinary care” that was added to our caregivers’ normal wages in recognition of their continued dedication and courage to care for people during the COVID-19 pandemic

The moral of the story for business leaders, particularly those in the home health care industry, is that strong companies are built on strong people. You need to invest in your team and show them through your leadership what service above self means, day in and day out.

For those agency leaders who are struggling right now, I would encourage you to take time to analyze what’s gone wrong.

Why have you lost business?

What could you improve, even right now?

Are there some small steps you can take in the next few weeks to invest more in your staff?

The number one lesson we’ve learned is that investing in your employees should be your top priority. This investment is not a one-time thing. It is all the time, because it takes time for roots to take hold and grow.

Tim Murray is the President and CEO of Aware Senior Care, an award-winning home health care agency in Cary, North Carolina serving seniors and those who are disabled or chronically ill.

They are a veteran-owned business serving the Triangle, and they believe in taking a holistic approach with every client by considering the whole person, not just the services they can provide.

To learn more, visit or call 919-436-1871.