Taking service personally

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For 35 years, Interim HealthCare has been enriching lives – and not just those of its clients

 

Interim HealthCare of Upstate South Carolina is part of a larger chain of more than 300 independently owned franchises around the country. Yet the home health and hospice care provider has a unique identity deliberately cultivated by president Ray Schroeder and vice president Charyl Schroeder, his wife, and the rest of the leadership team.

While the larger corporate mission is “We Improve People’s Lives,” the purpose at Interim HealthCare of Upstate SC is “We are dedicated to honoring God through the enrichment of human life.” Ray Schroeder and CEO Rick McDuff say their own lives are enriched by the work they and their support and clinical staff do; it’s not something they can turn off at the end of the day.

The company started off as Personnel Pool of Greenville in 1979, creating a home health division in 1984. The game-changer came four years later when Medicare changed its policy to include home health care.

“Our business really got legs when Medicare decided to cover home health,” Schroeder said. The business more than doubled in size every year from 1984 to 1988, requiring continual hiring and requisite expansions. “That’s when we really learned what it takes to run a large company.”

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Industry changes

 

As with many industries, advances in technology have had a significant impact on the business. First, there’s the simple fact that mobile communication is easier. In the early days, Schroeder would carry a pager on his evening runs and if an emergency occurred, he’d have to jog up to a stranger’s home and ask to use the phone. But even more impactful than that have been changes in care delivery. Now each of Interim’s home care clients have telemonitoring devices that track seven different vital signs.

Interim also leads the field by providing a concierge service to each patient for 60 days. Patients have a call alert device that contacts Interim immediately if they need help, which Schroeder said gives many of their elderly patients a much-needed sense of security.

InterimMost recently, requirements related to the federal Affordable Care Act have brought the biggest change to how Interim does business. Medicare payments have been reduced, causing the company to make cuts. Gone is the annual office Christmas party at the TD Center where 400 employees and their guests would celebrate the year.

It’s not the first tough time.

Twenty years ago, a competitor came to town and set out to ruin Interim. The new company lured away three of the company’s four main employees overnight by offering them $10,000 more than their salaries at Interim.

“I gathered up my remaining staff of one and told her how grateful I was that she had stayed. And that day I decided my drive now would be to show the other three that they’d made a mistake.” He said two of the deserters eventually asked to come back (but he wouldn’t have them), and the other company had folded up and disappeared within a year.

Another time the company was subjected to a random IRS audit, six months Schroeder called “one of the most acerbic and painful times.” Nearly every day brought contact with an IRS agent whom he felt was very negative. In the end, however, the company ended up with a substantial tax rebate after the agency pored over its finances.

 

Consuming work

 

Schroeder speaks somewhat matter-of-factly about the challenges the company has faced, as if dealing with them is just part of what needs to be done in service to his clients. It’s a service he says he takes personally. Schroeder had begun his career as a lawyer, but his mother’s death unexpectedly changed his path.

He’d gained a reputation in Florida for divorce law after representing actor Mickey Rooney’s seventh wife, he said, but he eventually soured on working divorces. Then, an only child, Schroeder watched his mother die of lung cancer. He was struck by the care she received at the end of her life, which he described as spiritual, loving, and the best care he’d ever seen.

“It change my outlook on death and dying,” he said. It also changed his notions of what would make a fulfilling career. With that, he bought into the Interim franchise, loaded up a truck with whatever supplies his partners would allow him to take, and moved to Greenville to set up shop in 1985.

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 10.48.59 AMActually, he got to Greenville but the truck was lost en route for four days. So he bought a cot and two chairs for his 450-square-foot office on University Ridge. He spent his first nights on the cot and days in one of the chairs, interviewing people to build his staff.

A considerable number of current staffers have stayed with the company for a long time. Seven people have been with the company for more than a quarter century, and more than 60 of the rest have been with the company for more than 10 years. McDuff said they know they have the right employees when “they fit our heart. They understand coming into it what we believe in.”

It’s notable language, especially coming from somebody who was a partner with Smith Moore Leatherwood until last year. As a former trial lawyer now working in a heavily regulated industry, he “looks at everything,” but said it’s the small and grand gestures from the clinical staff that continue to impress him. They befriend clients, celebrate their milestones and attend their funerals. One nurse whose elderly client was having difficulty getting in and out of the home took her own family to build the client a ramp in a weekend.

“It’s a business you’re totally consumed by,” McDuff said. It’s a drastic departure from law, which McDuff said is an adversarial system that doesn’t offer as many opportunities to help others.

 

Leadership “dream team”

 

A “dream team” of six people makes up the company’s leadership. They are dedicated folks, most of whom have been with the company more than 15 years, Schroeder said.

“Every one of them are people I say, ‘I don’t keep hours with you, because if I had to pay you for all the hours you work, I’d lose.’”

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