April 27, 2015
Faces of Business

As CT ages, Gibbs sees opportunity in homecare industry

PHOTO | Steve Laschever
PHOTO | Steve Laschever
Derrick Gibbs Jr. has a diverse background in sales, but he's found a niche providing home and behavioral health care to the elderly and mentally ill.
Stan Simpson
PHOTO | Steve Laschever
Gibbs’ CHANGEInc recently opened a new location in New London.

At age two, Derrick Gibbs Jr. wanted to be a doctor. As he got older, he wanted to be a nurse. The desire to serve grew stronger as his life evolved.

Gibbs performed church missionary work in Puerto Rico at 14; earned certifications to become a lifeguard, medical response technician and a volunteer firefighter. He also worked as an executive with the Boy Scouts.

It's no surprise that Gibbs these days runs a business whose goal is to help others in need.

CHANGEInc is a Middletown-based company that provides homecare and behavioral health services to the elderly and mentally ill. When it opened in 2009 there were few employees, basically Gibbs, who served as executive director, and a couple of assistants. Annual revenue was about $70,000. Today, CHANGEInc has a new 3,000-square-foot headquarters on South Main Street. There are 25 full-time employees and about 225 part-timers. Annual revenue is $5 million. Gibbs believes the growth potential could eventually be $20 million.

"There are quite a few people in Connecticut nursing homes who don't meet that level of care — and don't really need to be there,'' said Gibbs, 28, as he talked to the Hartford Business Journal in his office's conference room. "In this particular industry, a lot of nursing homes are closing; some are over occupied."

Gibbs said a 2009 study showed there were 7,000 people in Connecticut nursing homes that didn't need to be there. "They could be back home and getting the services at their home. And we've proven that day in and day out,'' he said.

The business relies heavily on referrals for elderly residents in need of at-home services, such as meal preparation, grocery shopping, doctor's appointments, bathing, reminders about taking medicine and those who need 24-hour home care. Medicaid, for the most part, pays CHANGEInc for its services.

Connecticut has an emerging senior population; services for the elderly are a growth market. Most of Gibbs' 200 clients are women.

"I think we're bringing a huge value to the community," he said. "Ninety-five percent of the clients we're serving are individuals on Medicaid. These are individuals who are over 65 and many times are impoverished. These are people that don't have the means. One of the biggest areas where we are making a difference is with people who have been institutionalized. We are much more cost effective in terms of quality of life."

Gibbs — a Hartford native, raised in East Hartford — is a 2008 graduate of Eastern Connecticut State University, where he majored in business. He also once sold life insurance and copy machines. He believes his diverse background in community service and sales allowed him to apply the skills needed to be a healthcare entrepreneur. As an executive with the Middlesex County Boy Scouts, he learned about organizational structure and leadership. As a salesman, he knew the importance of interpersonal skills, assessing needs and closing deals.

Of the 25 full-time employees, seven are field managers, each of whom manages a county. The field managers are required to live in the county in which they work, a strategy Gibbs borrowed from the Boy Scouts because it makes the managers better connected to the region they serve.

Opening a new business can be a daunting task especially if you have never run one before. As a manager, Gibbs has learned the importance of hiring strong leaders and giving "them breathing room.'' He concedes that he has to fight a tendency to micromanage. As the owner and executive director, he fully understands that he is ultimately accountable for the success (or failure) of his business.

"I want to be involved as much as possible,'' Gibbs said. "This is my organization."

CHANGEInc — the name inspired by the election of President Obama in 2008 and his message to "be the change you wish to see" — is looking to expand in the next few years and recently opened an office in New London.

Gibbs is staying true to the business plan he drafted in 2008, the year before he received a startup loan from the Hartford Economic Development Corp. (HEDCO). As a kid, he loved being of service to others. It was spirit shaped, in part, by his uncle Rev. Donald Steinle, who once served as the executive director of a nonprofit organization.

"I wanted to find something that was similar to what I enjoyed doing," Gibbs recalled.

No, he never became a doctor or a nurse. He does, however, work with them regularly.

Stan Simpson is host of "The Stan Simpson Show", which airs Saturday, 5:30 a.m., on Fox CT and online at FoxCt.com/stan. You can send suggestions for the "Faces in Business" column to stansimpson@comcast.net.

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