The home care franchise model is thriving in Australia, according to the chief operating officer of Australia’s largest and longest-running franchised provider.
Just Better Care has seen five new territories open this year, including one in Perth last month, in response to increased demand for in-home care for older Australians and people with disability, COO Alison Chandler told Community Care Review.
When Just Better care started out fifteen years ago it was providing just 36 home care packages. Over the last three years that’s increased to almost 1,000. It currently has 4,000 customers.
“And they’re coming in every week,” Ms Chandler says.
The company is screening between eight and ten expressions of interest a week from prospective franchise owners.
“It was a little quiet after the royal commission first kicked in, I think everybody was thinking ‘oh I’m not sure if I want to do that’,” she says.
“But most definitely we’ve had an increase.”
During hearings into home care in August the aged care royal commission heard that home care franchises, along with brokerages and subcontracting arrangements, represented a new aged care business model that supported the delivery of services over what could be a wide geographical area.
Ms Chandler says the number of home care franchises in Australia has been increasing, and interest in Australia from international franchisors has seen more opening up locally.
Sydney-based Just Better Care, founded in 2005, is Australia’s largest franchisor of in-home non-medical and medical care services and one of the franchise brands under the Caring Brands International Corporate umbrella, along with Interim Health Care in the US and Bluebird Care in the UK.
It has 40 independently owned and franchised operations across Australia, in NSW, the ACT, Victoria, WA and Queensland
Others operating in Australia include Home Caring, Pearl Home Care, Right at Home, Senior Helpers and newcomer Nurse Next Door.
It costs between around $65,000 to over $220,000 to purchase a home care franchise, with between $50,000 to $150,000 required in working capital.
Franchisees receive a percentage of profits and at least one other Australian franchisor offers a salary package as well.
Ms Chandler, who’s been COO since 2013, says Just Better Care doesn’t sell to anybody who applies, but she’s noticed an increase in high quality applicants – “people who we really want to have a chat with and interview”.
Prospective applicants are screened and must meet certain criteria before proceeding to a “discovery day where they interview us and we interview them”, she says.
Successful applicants go through a comprehensive due diligence program and 12 months of training.
After 15 years in Australia, the Just Better Care model is working well, Ms Chandler says.
“We’re finding that the model we have is working really well because we’re growing so fast,” she says.
Ms Chandler says one advantage is that offices are on the ground and local.
“It’s not someone in Sydney rostering or scheduling support workers to visit someone in Perth, for example.
“We find that our customers and our staff really like that because they can visit the office, they can meet the owner of the franchise. It’s working really well and we’re very proud of it.”
Ms Chandler believes the home care sector has weathered COVID well and is proving to be a sustainable industry, with demand only set to increase.
She says she’s definitely seen an increase in inquires about home care, sometimes even before it’s needed.
“People seem to be thinking more about planning for the future rather than being reactive when something happens like a fall or deterioration of health,” she says.
We take a lot of enquiries from people who are just looking for information who aren’t necessarily currently needing services yet so that’s been an interesting shift.Alison Chandler
“We take a lot of enquiries from people who are just looking for information who aren’t necessarily currently needing services yet so that’s been an interesting shift.”
Ms Chandler also welcomes recommendations made in closing submissions to the royal commission that the government should work towards a zero waiting list by 2022 and cap wait times at one month by July 2024, and she believes the sector can absorb an increase in packages.
“If you have transparent information about when the demand is going to hit you as a provider you can recruit to the growth,” she says.
“There’s a lot of providers out there and I definitely believe the sector can cope with it if it’s planned.”
She also welcomes funding reforms which will see home care package funding shift from payment in advance payment on invoice.
“I do think it’s a step forward because one of the concerns we have as a provider, and everyone has as a provider, is unspent funds,” she says.
“To have a small amount of contingency funding is necessary because people’s care needs change, but the amount of unspent funds is just ridiculous in my opinion and it needs to be reinvested back so more people can access care.”