J.J. Sorrenti was picked to lead the Bloomfield Hills, Michigan-based Best Life Brands as CEO in April 2020, just a month into the COVID-19 pandemic.
There have been ups and downs for the company, which has both home care and home health locations in its portfolio. Yet Sorrenti is optimistic about his company’s future.
The holding company currently has over 500 franchise locations across the U.S. and Canada. Under its umbrella is ComForCare, At Your Side, Boost Home Healthcare and other senior-focused franchise brands.
Best Life Brands has been acquisitive of late and has plans to take the next step in its growth plan by integrating more technology in the near-term future. That updated technology should help the company both operationally and with staffing, Sorrenti said.
Home Health Care News caught up with Sorrenti on a recent Disrupt episode to talk about that and much more.
Highlights from the conversation are below, edited for length and clarity.
HHCN: How did you first get into the home care game? What was the path that brought you to Best Life Brands?
J.J. Sorrenti: I was interested in the business for a lot of the reasons that all of us are interested in the industry today: the fast-growing demographics, the opportunity to provide awesome care and the opportunity to really fix a problem in the home, which is very difficult to solve.
I was the CEO for Huntington Learning Centers, which is a supplemental education after-school tutoring business. When a child’s struggling in school, it really breaks the home apart. To be able to help fix that was probably the most gratifying thing I was able to do, until now.
We’ve all dealt with it at some level or another where we had a parent that was struggling and needed some care or needed placement. I don’t have health care experience, but I have franchising experience, and it felt like the team would appreciate my leadership style.
Somebody else in your position who was coming into home care for the first time could have decided to stick to the bread and butter home care services. But you actually decided to expand into the medical home care arena. Why did you decide to do that?
As I was interviewing for the position, everyone that I spoke with at the private equity firm said that the home health care initiative was very important to the senior care platform, and it’s for all the same reasons. There’s so much need in the marketplace and there’s so much opportunity for people.
At some level, you want to be a profitable model, but our model is also about helping people and being able to be available and convenient to people that need the care. Our private equity firm was very interested in getting into the space and so COVID didn’t slow that process down. Not one bit. In fact, it accelerated it a bit.
Best Life Brands has hundreds of locations across its network and its different brands. I’m most interested in hearing about ComForCare, At Your Side and Boost. Even amid the pandemic, how have these different brands grown?
Each one of them was impacted differently. Of course with ComForCare and At Your Side, there were pros and cons to COVID. I think anyone that’s in home care that understands home care, like most of the listeners to this podcast, know that. There were hospitals and facilities that were discharging patients early and so we were able to help out in that situation.
We do person-to-person, face-to-face, in-the-market visits in the facility and the community, so that was very difficult to do. We had to go towards more of a digital experience so we were slow for a while, but we were able to rebound and the private equity firm made some investments at that time and we were able to survive and get through the situation.
What are you targeting as far as new territories or locations by the end of 2022?
I’ve been in franchising for a really long time, thirty-plus years now. Generally speaking, every time any of the businesses that I’ve been involved in started to target certain geographies, it got really inefficient. What we’re trying to do is find the candidates that are interested in our business, and hopefully the geography that they’re interested in is available in our brands.
Every franchise development director around is going to have a different answer to this question based on their experience. We’ve stayed flexible. That way, based on the candidates that call us, we see where their interests lie because 90% of their interest is in the neighborhood they live in and so we want to be able to respond to that.
Apart from just entrepreneurs who are looking to get into home care, are you seeing any other types of home care owners that in the past, maybe you wouldn’t have seen?
We are. We’re especially seeing it on the Boost side. In fact, several of our nurses have decided that they want to run a business for themselves. We’ll have to modify the way we think about things.
If you have a nurse that’s now the operator, maybe they need a little more help in sales and marketing and a little less help on the clinical side. You have to make sure you have your operating systems and your ongoing support modified to make sure that you know you’re supporting the franchisees the best you can.
What are you seeing from your owners in the Best Life Brands network on the staffing front?
We see retention is very strong for us and that’s a good thing. About 94% of our caregivers report that they’re very pleased with their work at ComForCare and At Your Side. That’s a really high mark. Retention is in a good place. Recruitment is always the bigger issue.
ComForCare and At Your Side have a caregiver-first initiative that they’ve really refined. It’s a fascinating, wonderful program that sort of sets us apart in many ways so we do know how to help franchisees find caregivers on the recruitment side.
The other thing that’s happening is that franchisees have found different ways to schedule and different ways to structure that staff. When somebody finds the really good math [when structuring and juggling schedules], we’re able to share best practices across the system.
A lot of different ingredients go into the retention stew, so to speak. What are some of the key retention ingredients that you’re really focused on as the CEO of Best Life Brands?
We try to work on being really transparent and making sure that folks that are on the team understand the ‘why’ behind what they’re doing. Most people join this company for that reason. Our caregivers are helping people live their best lives and helping families solve problems. That’s just a wonderful purpose.
You better be competitive on pay scale, PTO, be flexible with a work-life balance and all those other things. Those are critically important, but we really are focused on the purpose, the trust and the transparency.
What issue, in your view, isn’t getting enough attention in home care?
As we’re running down the path with technology and figuring out how technology is going to interface with home care — how that may help the labor question probably could get a lot more attention. There are literally hundreds of solutions out there today and it’s going to be fascinating to watch who ends up being the leader. We went through an evaluation process for ourselves as we started venturing into what traditionally is called remote patient monitoring. We’re calling it virtual care services.
I think COVID at some level accelerated [this technology push], but there are a lot of companies that are thinking about jumping into doing remote patient monitoring and I I think there’s going to be some really fascinating changes to the industry in the next several years as a result of it.
As the CEO of the organization, what business opportunities in home care are you excited about in the back half of 2022 most, maybe even looking ahead to next year?
We’re a little bit slow on the technology side, but we’re going in full force now. We’ve got a market test for virtual care services and we don’t know where that’s going to take us. We’re testing it in home care at this stage and we’re pretty sure we’re going to end up taking it to Boost Home Health.
We’re really excited about that and we’re about to go to market with a handful of franchisees to test this and see what the traction is going to look like.