Story by Kimberly Hundley
The founder of Scottsdale’s new home-healthcare company knows it sounds disingenuous for a business to proclaim, “We really care!” In fact, she’s more likely than most to bristle at the hackneyed marketing claim.
But there’s no getting around it. Polly Morris launched Hyde Park Home Healthcare Professionals because she cares. “People shouldn’t have to choose between quality in-home healthcare and luxury services,” says Morris, who researched the sector for two years before developing an extensive training program, and finally opening for business last summer.
Make no mistake. A recent empty nester, Morris, 51, could be indulging in a leisurely “Scottsdale ladies who lunch” lifestyle. Her husband is Randy Nussbaum, managing partner of the Airpark-based law firm Nussbaum Gills & Dinner, P.C., and the couple reside in luxurious McCormick Ranch.
But Morris is the kind of person who thrives on doing something that matters, and doing it as perfectly as humanly possible.
“I don’t need the money. I don’t need any more clothes. I like my house,” she says of her decision to not only helm a new business, but to introduce a new concept within the industry. “I can’t just sit around. It sounds so trite, but I have to have stress in my life. I literally can’t do anything halfway.”
Morris’ zeal brings unprecedented perks to home healthcare clients, whether they’re looking for long- or short-term services. In addition to standard caregiver duties, staff members are trained to cook and serve great meals, perform manicures and pedicures, style hair, and be attentive to each client’s personal interests—all for only a few extra dollars per hour than what most chain providers charge, according to Morris.
The seed for Hyde Park was planted when Morris studied as a social worker specializing in gerontology. (“I’ve always had an affinity for elderly people. I’m kind of old-fashioned myself,” she confesses.) Back when her kids were in grade school, Morris interned at senior-housing facilities and Hospice of the Valley while earning a master’s degree. She came away with valuable perspectives on end-of-life issues, as well as the challenges that the elderly face living on their own.
“I was sent to many [high-end] assisted living homes and private homes,” she says. “In both instances, I would see substandard care, and it was for different reasons.”
One of the chief observations she made, however, was inconsistency between caregiver shifts. Three assistants would be attentive and industrious, while the next might lock herself into an office to watch TV, leaving her wards to fend for themselves for hours.
“Any company is only as good as its worst person,” notes Morris.
As owner of Hyde Park, she resolved to hire the crème de la crème to assure her clients receive high-quality, consistent and respectful services.
Elite, Handpicked Staff
It’s only three times harder to get into Harvard University than for candidates to qualify as Hyde Park “personal care assistants/PCAs,” an above-and-beyond term Morris coined. “About 15 percent of people who interview with me make it through to being my employees,” says Morris.
Although she’s a perfectionist with high expectations, Morris admits she’s been surprised by how few applicants make the cut, especially since all of them are gainfully employed by other care providers in the Valley and have strong resumes. A few are weeded out due to inappropriate language or tardiness, but most fail the drug and alcohol testing or criminal background checks.
“We do such extensive background testing I can give you someone to marry by the time we’re done,” she says, laughing.
To be considered for employment, applicants must first be CNAs (certified nursing assistants approved to work in a facility under the supervision of a nurse) and have Caregiver state certifications (cleared to work one-on-one with someone in a private home; Morris will pay for this training if a CNA is especially impressive). They also require reliable transportation and pleasant demeanors.
The next step is Hyde Park’s training in five-star services and techniques to enhance the emotional and physical well-being of clients.
By the time Hyde Park PCAs earn their distinctive, yellow-and-navy uniform and apron, Morris feels like she knows them.
“It would have been much easier if I’d opened up a home-health company like all the others, which are usually franchises,” Morris says. “Generally what they do is they have hundreds of clients and they have a pool of workers—who they may or may not know—and then they see who can go to this house or to that one.”
Hyde Park, on the other hand, strives to match a client’s needs and preferences to each caregiver. The company also has incorporated a policy for PCAs needed for back-to-back shifts: caregivers’ schedules will slightly overlap so the new person can be introduced and oriented by his predecessor, someone the client already knows.
As part of Hyde Park’s culinary training, Morris and her sister, a chef who hosts cooking parties in the Valley, developed a recipe book of 175 dishes. “The idea is when they come out, they will have a really good knowledge of different cooking styles and will be able to make what the person wants,” Morris explains.
If a PCA gets a request for a dish and isn’t yet fully comfortable with preparation, the Hyde Park culinary instructor will go to the client’s home and supervise the caregiver in the kitchen—at no extra charge. The same goes for Hyde Park’s hair-styling services.
The nonmedical home-health industry is not regulated by any government entity, and Morris cautions people to be vigilant about whom they select to provide care for their family members and to keep close tabs on performance.
Hyde Park has completed all the groundwork for medical licensing and will begin providing medical care as well this month, she adds. Because the service won’t be Medicare accredited until it’s been surveyed for 12 months, patients would have to pay in full until next year.
Nonmedical home care isn’t covered by regular health insurance, though long-term health insurance will pay for approved visits. Hyde Park’s rate is $28 an hour.
Morris says the hardest part of getting her business going is the misconception that home healthcare is the same no matter where you go, and that her luxury service doesn’t have the power to radically change the quality of a person’s life. “I have to redefine it, but people aren’t listening,” she says. “It’s so difficult for me to explain to people.”
Prospective clients will call Hyde Park and complain about worrisome scenarios with their current home-health providers. Morris recalls a recent conversation about a woman’s mother being treated like a naughty child at a rehabilitation facility because she wanted an extra couple of minutes to finish her ice cream bar before attending a physical therapy session. The staff made her throw the food away, then told the daughter her mother was “being difficult” when she talked of the incident.
“I don’t get it,” says Morris. “These people aren’t prisoners. If it had been my staff, we would have said, ‘Of course, we’ll be back in five minutes.’ Our job is to care and to serve. We’re not in charge of them. They are in charge of us.”
Undignified treatment—plus addressing clients as “honey” or “sweetie” rather than the more formal “Mr.” and “Mrs.”—is too often the case among providers, and family members are likewise too quick to accept substandard care as a necessary evil, she adds.
On a bright note, Morris has been pleasantly surprised by the generosity and encouragement of “baby boomer children” looking out for their parents. Many elderly home-care clients with considerable means balk at the extra $3 to $5 per hour for the extras that Hyde Park furnishes, possibly because they’re concerned about draining their children’s inheritance. But the kids, says Morris, see how dramatically better the service can make parents’ lives, and they often end up paying for it themselves.
“I have to charge what I’m charging or I’d be losing money,” Morris says. “This isn’t the most profitable way to run this business, but my goodness, it is the best way to run this business. And I am lucky I can afford to do this and not worry about paying for rent or food. I have the luxury of being able to realize my ideal business.”
Hyde Park Home
14850 N. Scottsdale Road,
Suite 450-B, Scottsdale