Braving The Pandemic To Start A Home Health Care Business

By: Debra Lawless

Jean C. Copeland, left, and Karen L. Warren started Quality Homecare Cape Cod in the middle of the pandemic. COUTESY PHOTO

What would it be like to start your first business, a home health care business, during a pandemic?

Karen L. Warren of Harwich and Jean C. Copeland of Chatham found out when they opened Quality Homecare Cape Cod, LLC one year ago, on June 1.

“Mostly it made us nervous,” Copeland says. “We had to have a COVID policy.” They have continuously educated themselves on the CDC’s ever-changing guidelines. And they have practiced social distancing, handwashing, and mask-wearing. Their caregivers did the same, and they asked all of their caregivers to let them know if they came in contact with anyone with COVID.

“I’m actually very proud of how our caregivers handled it,” Warren says. “Kudos to all our caregivers.”

Warren, an R.N., and Copeland, an L.P.N., met when they were both employed at Liberty Commons in North Chatham. They discovered they had the same “values, ideas and thoughts,” Copeland said during a telephone interview with both women last week. Warren, 54, and Copeland, 53, are only months apart in age and graduated from Harwich High and Chatham High the same year.

Both women also know what it means to care for elderly parents in their home, Warren says. And in fact, some of their current clients were friends of their parents, recommended to them through word-of-mouth. “People are just referring us left and right,” Copeland says.

With the goal of allowing people to age in place at home, or to stay at home while living with dementia or other ailments, the pair established their business with an office at 2469 Main St. in South Chatham. Some of their clients are people whose families are not here to help them. Others are snowbirds who winter in Florida and have home help there. Still others have family members here who have burned out from the high demands the care put upon them.

“I’m surprised at how many are trying to take care of their loved ones and have caregiver burnout,” Warren says. “One daughter cried and thanked us that she could get back to her hobbies and what she was used to doing.”

So how does Quality Homecare differ from the VNA of Cape Cod and other groups offering home care on Cape Cod?

“We wanted to keep the company small and intimate to give good care,” Copeland says. “We want to be very much involved with it.”

In fact, both women work full-time in the business. They found they can divide their tasks into what restaurants dub “front of house” and “back of house.” Warren is in charge of scheduling and finance, while Copeland meets with clients. “We’re a good team,” Copeland says.

When a new client is considering them, Copeland makes a presentation and answers any questions. Once the team has been hired, they “break the ice” by introducing the caregiver and the client in the client’s home, Warren says. They also train the caregiver in all of the equipment that will be used, and even, in some cases, familiarize the caregivers with the client’s pets.

“We definitely are hands on,” Copeland says. “You decide if we’re a good fit for you.”

One of the first things the pair did was hire between 40 and 45 caregivers. They are all certified, experienced and checked to make sure they do not have criminal records. “We’re definitely picky about who we hired,” Warren says. Because the company pays a higher hourly wage than many of the facilities, “we got the cream of the crop.”

Matching caregivers to clients is something of an art that involves juggling personalities and needs and even issues such as a caregiver who might be allergic to pets. Caregivers work with the same clients for continuity. If a substitute is needed, the substitute is already known to the client, so “there is still a familiar face going in there,” Warren says.

Copeland adds that with dementia patients, it’s doubly important that an unfamiliar face never go into the home.

The caregivers help with tasks that range from personal hygiene to meal preparation and cooking, store trips, medical appointments, medication reminders and socializing. One of their clients enjoys puzzles, so his caregiver joins in. Others clients might like to take a car ride to the beach. The business also offers respite, end-of-life and hospice care.

Of the company’s 17 or 18 current cases, four or five are 24/7 cases. It is possible, too, to hire the company for just an hour a day, if that’s what it takes for a client to age in place.

The company concentrates on Chatham, Harwich, Orleans, Brewster, Harwich and Dennis but has had clients as far away as Wellfleet and Hyannis.

A number of people have approached the women and said, “we can’t believe you and Karen opened a business,” Copeland says. “We couldn’t consider it if not for our amazing husbands who support us.” Copeland is married to Brian Skinner, a criminal identification officer with the Barnstable County sheriff’s office, and Warren is married to Wayne Robillard, an Orleans firefighter and paramedic. “We feel lucky and grateful.”

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