How to start a home care agency

Schmieding Center

Once upon a time, a debilitating illness called for a doctor's house call and a family member to minister to the needs of the patient. Fast-forward to the 21st century and you'll discover a return to this way of life, in response to an ageing population and ballooning costs for residential treatment.

If you love the idea of bringing care directly to people where they live, and yearn for the satisfaction this type of business offers, this may be a good time to make it your life's work.

Determine whether your experience, schooling and credentials qualify you to launch a medical or nonmedical home care agency. This distinction is important, as it will determine everything about how you'll run your operation---from licensing to the limits imposed upon what you and your employees will be able to do for patients. Licensed medical professionals must run medical home care agencies.

List the types of nonmedical services you're prepared to perform if your agency is to fit into the category of nonmedical care giving. Typical tasks in this area are hygiene-related, personal care and grooming, daily living help, meals, housekeeping and transportation. Conversely, your medically based home care enterprise will call for you to do everything from giving injections to therapy and making preliminary diagnoses.

Choose between opening a franchise or solo agency once you've determined into which category you fit. Opt for a franchise and you'll pay a fee to obtain everything you need to open your business in the name of the franchiser. You'll be required to make a large capital investment, but shouldn't have to purchase a thing because everything from marketing plans to accounting software may come with your franchise fee. Alternatively, launch your small business by writing a business plan, acquiring the start-up cash, and putting together a plan for finding and caring for clients.

File for licenses and permits required by your state and local authorities. Most states will send you an application kit filled with information and forms, with directions for applying for your licenses and permits. You may be asked to list your personal credentials, certifications, experience and skills, and you'll pay one or more fees. From this data, your application will be processed and credentials will be mailed to you.

Decide whether you wish to become a corporation. Filing is relatively easy and can be done using an online legal service. There are different types of corporations. Find out which is right for you (sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company, S corporation or C corporation) by visiting your state website: www.state.(your state initials).us. Purchase insurance for your agency to cover yourself and/or your employees.

Purchase the office equipment, supplies and materials you'll need to run your home care agency. Consider launching a website, design (or have designed) a marketing brochure listing your services, and set up a current account in the name of your business. Unless you plan to fly solo, start recruiting personnel. Great places to find staff are community college nursing and social work programs or advertise in newspapers or on the Internet.

Establish accurate record-keeping and accounting systems so your home care agency keeps up-to-date information on clients, schedules, expenses and income. A dedicated computer with software designed to capture and sort records will best accomplish this essential job. Allocate time in your schedule to oversee payroll and client billings. As a bonus, when it's time to file the agency's income tax forms, you'll be able to pull all your figures from your computer.

Stay in touch with your state's governing body so you're in the loop about changes, trends and news. Each state has a unique name for the department with which you will liaison. Examples are Department of Human Resources, Health and Social Services, Department of Economic Security, Health Care Administration, Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, Health and Family Services, Department of Community Health, Department of Children and Family Services, Department of Welfare or Medical Assistance Services.

Join a trade association to stay on top of new practices in the home care industry. One of the biggest is the National Association of Home Care & Hospice. Membership is open to all types of home care agencies, and your affiliation qualifies you for all kinds of benefits. Call (202) 547-7424 for more information, or visit its website.