Home care agencies are not immune to the risks to business continuity brought on by COVID-19. Agencies are experiencing decreases in census, hours and revenue and are beginning to lay off staff or severely cut back hours.
In a recent poll of more than 100 home care agency representatives, only 1% reported that referrals are up, while 51% reported no change in referrals and 48% reported referrals are down.
There is no reasonable way to conclude that there are less patients in need of services. Yes, elective surgeries have been cancelled, but hospitals are filling up with cases of COVID-19, flu and patients with other seasonal diseases. All other patients who were in need before because of some emergent issue, still need care.
Private pay clients in some cases are cutting back on services. For those who rely upon investment accounts for their retirement income, it has been a brutal two weeks with a 35% drop in the U.S. stock markets. If we balance all out, let’s say the same number of patients need care now as before. Our challenge is how to get referral sources to make appropriate referrals. They are overwhelmed and understaffed at the moment. You certainly can’t make them refer to you but you can make it as easy as possible.
Steps to make referrals easier
- Be creative with electronic communication methods. Think about whether you are reducing the steps someone must take to make a referral to your agency. Ask referral sources what would work best for them during this time. It takes two weeks for a new business processes to stick with most companies. We’re a few weeks into this alternate reality and referral sources will now start to settle into some new referral patterns. Help them make good choices. Encouraging referral sources to use online referral submission portals, text and email to let you know a referral is forthcoming can get you into action and reduce the number of steps it might take your referral partner to complete the referral.
- Send out a weekly status update. This should focus on your ability to take on new patients, update referral sources on contact info for key personnel and include any news on new programs, services or trainings. A good story about how you were able to work closely with other similar facilities would go a long way. Keep it short and to the point. Once you have sent that to your key referral sources, post it on your website and social media pages. Have your sales representatives stay active on social media without burdening referral sources. Be available without being intrusive.
- Know your protocol. Be prepared to communicate to your referral sources what you will and will not do during this time. They have given your agency clear instructions on how to work with them and you should extend the same professional courtesy.
- Draft a marketing plan. If your agency hasn’t drafted an action plan on the marketing, intake and referral portion of your agency, you need to. Then, you need to let your referral partners know about it. Be flexible whenever possible. But if your policy states that you won’t enter any facilities even if requested (for the protection of staff, patients and residents) then your key contacts should know it. Include key contact information, who your backup people are in the event someone is out sick, and steps that your marketing team is taking to help reduce the spread of the disease (i.e., attending only virtual meetings, utilizing infectious disease protocols when being summoned to a facility, self isolating at a home office). While you would think these things would be second nature, never make a referral source guess if they are making the safe choice when referring to you.
- Have fun. Humor is a great tool to reduce stress and bind people together. Feel free to include a funny story or picture along with your communications. Silly pictures of your cat using your iPhone to text her friends definitely belong on social media right now. You never know how much that one unexpected laugh can brighten someone’s day and reduce their stress.
- Work on your skills. Now is the perfect time to take an online class on leadership, public speaking, negotiating or closing a deal. It’s like the business world hit the “pause” button and said “Hey, use this time to become more valuable to your agency.” Don’t miss this chance because (we hope) it won’t ever come around again.
- Don’t give up. Sales on its own is a challenging job. Most of your day is filled with rejection and people saying “no” or people saying things that mean “no.” By nature, most salespeople are driven to interact with others and its simply not enough to see them on a computer screen. We thrive on that interaction and human connection. It would be so easy to slip at this point and decide “I can’t do this”…but you’d be wrong. You can. In fact, you must. The job you do is so vital that without it, agencies would cease to exist. The process of making the phone ring with qualified referrals is the first vital cog in the giant machine that is hospice, home health and private duty. If you give up, who’s going to take your place? Take care of yourself and your referral sources right now because you both are vitally important to making sure that everyone that needs care, gets it.
About the author: Michael Giudicissi is the CEO of Power Shot Training, Inc., in Albuqerque, N.M. For more information about his company please visit: www.powershottraining.com.