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August 1, 2022

Amid industry labor woes, Pansy Homecare finds growth by paying workers more

HBJ PHOTO | ROBERT STORACE Mother-son duo Pansy and Jonah (right) Francis are the founders of West Hartford-based Pansy Homecare Service LLC.
HBJ PHOTO | ROBERT STORACE Mother-son duo Pansy and Jonah (right) Francis are the founders of West Hartford-based Pansy Homecare Service LLC.
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As many homecare service companies struggle to retain employees due to low wages and job stresses, West Hartford-based Pansy Homecare Service LLC is trying to buck that trend by paying its workers more and fostering an environment of inclusiveness.

And, the nine-year-old business — operated by the mother and son team of Pansy and Jonah Francis — is growing.

There are about 27,000 homecare businesses in the U.S. and many are facing similar challenges, starting with finding workers amid a tight labor market in an industry known to pay low wages, according to Vicki Hoak, CEO of the Home Care Association of America.

It’s an issue that was exacerbated by the pandemic.

“There are so many challenges facing the industry,” Hoak said. “First, it’s a challenge to have enough professional caregivers to meet the needs of the growing elderly population. How can you recruit better and retain workers better? It boils down to many things. Wages are important, but people also want to work for a company that cares about them. It’s all about creating a culture of caring.”

Hoak said nationally, the average homecare worker pay is about $12 to $14 an hour, a sum many can’t survive on.

The Francis’ said they’ve found success by paying workers more than competitors and offering incentives.

Connecticut’s minimum wage recently went to $14 an hour; Pansy Homecare offers hourly wages between $15.50 and $18. In addition, it offers other perks, like referral bonuses to workers who help recruit talent.

“Yes, we pay a little more than average,” said Jonah Francis. “We are always recruiting. We need to make sure we are finding the right balance with our clients, employees and office staff because if we take exceptional care of our employees, they will stay and want to work for us longer.”

Pansy Homecare has 42 caregivers who work with – primarily – elderly homebound individuals in the Hartford region.

Hands-on approach

While homecare providers struggle to find workers, they also have significant future growth opportunities, brought on by America’s aging population.

In fact, the Urban Institute estimates the number of people age 65 or older will double in the U.S. by 2040, while the population of people 85 and older is expected to quadruple.

Pansy Homecare is already benefiting from the demographic shift. It has hired three employees in the past seven months, doubling its office staff. In addition, it started a new company in May called “A Better Way,” which provides mental health therapy services and access to a licensed clinical therapist.

To accommodate its growth, the company recently took on a second floor in its Park Road office in West Hartford. Revenues grew 54% last year.

Pansy Francis – who the company is named after – has more than three decades in the homecare field. She is also hands-on and will personally provide in-home care to clients if needed.

Jonah Francis, who comes from an analytics and sports media journalism background, handles marketing.

Pansy Francis said she started the business with her son because she wanted to leverage her personal caregiver experience and give back to the community.

She also took a big entrepreneurial risk. Unable to access bank loans, Pansy Francis said she used her own funds, including borrowing from her retirement, to get the business off the ground.

The company, which survived during the pandemic despite a tough environment that caused it to lose money, has been able to grow its customer base over the years by developing relationships with assisted- and independent-living facilities, rehabilitation centers and hospitals, which serve as referral sources.

It charges clients between $28 and $32 an hour, similar to, or a little more, than competitors’ fees.

Caregivers, on average, spend about six hours a day with residents; some clients require 24-hour care, Jonah Francis said.

About 90% of clients have some kind of dementia, so the company has two certified dementia practitioners on staff.

Pansy Homecare caregivers help clients with daily living activities, including bathing, feeding, dressing and toileting.

“First and foremost, we have to make sure [clients’] actual needs to survive day to day are taken care of,” Jonah Francis said. “Thereafter, we help with the instruments of daily living like washing dishes, cleaning the house, and helping with their engagements. We build these things into their care plan. We want to meet their goals and hit on success as much as possible.”

Providing the proper caregiver with each resident is essential, Jonah Francis said.

“What we look for when we put a caregiver with a client is do they understand the culture,” said Jonah Francis. “We have a very diverse group of clients from Black people, including [African-Americans and Jamaicans], to Hispanic and Muslims and white clients to Indian clients. The list goes on and on.”

Jonah Francis said Pansy Homecare’s long-term goal is to be the “homecare agency of choice” in Connecticut. And that all starts with providing top-quality service.

“I always say that if I can train just one caregiver to be good, courteous and generous, then I’ve done my job,” Pansy Francis said.

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