Spokane Journal of Business

Comfort Keepers franchise here sees rebound in demand

Owner says business back on pace with where it was when she bought it in 2010

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Comfort Keepers franchise here sees rebound in demand
-—Staff photo by Chey Scott
Comfort Keepers care giver Kim Fowler, standing left, and the business owner, Darcy Antles, standing right, tend to Wilma Erfurth in her South Hill home.

Taking care of others is Darcy Antles' true passion, although she says she didn't discover that personal calling until much later in her life.

Antles now owns the Spokane-area franchise of Comfort Keepers, a Dayton, Ohio-based in-home, elder-care service provider. Comfort Keepers offers care-giving services for any level of client need, from assistance with basic housekeeping to around-the-clock nursing care, she says.

As a child growing up in the small town of Plentywood, Mont., located in the northeast corner of the state near the North Dakota and Canadian borders, Antles says she often tagged along with her pastor grandfather on his home visits to the congregation's members.

During those visits, Antles remembers observing her grandpa helping the town's seniors with various odd jobs around their homes. She says she also recalls that she loved to sit and have tea with some of the elderly women while her grandfather worked.

"It's natural for me to do this work," Antles says of her business. "I get to talking to people and the caregivers, and a lot of them have those kinds of stories, too. The people in this industry truly care about life, about people, and their job. That is just awesome, and it has changed my life."

Comfort Keepers' Spokane operations are based on Spokane's North Side, at 307 W. Francis, and in addition to the business's 60 caregivers, who all are licensed certified nursing assistants, Antles employs five office staff.

Her 21-year-old daughter, Kathryn Antles, also helps out with the business and is its acting vice president, Antles says.

She says the business provides its care services to clients throughout Spokane County, and a separately-owned Comfort Keepers franchise in Coeur d'Alene serves clients in North Idaho.

Antles says she purchased the Spokane Comfort Keepers franchise in mid-2010 from Dave and Karen Schreffler, who established the franchise here in 2002.

She says that when the Schrefflers oversaw Comfort Keepers, and before the housing market crash of 2008, the business's revenue and client base were growing annually.

"The economy now makes it more challenging, and there is more competition now than when (the Schrefflers) started, so I hired a business coach when I purchased it," Antles says.

She says that despite her many efforts to maintain the business's sales at an increasing rate, it endured a 60 percent drop in revenue not long after she took it over.

"No one knows why that happened, and I spent the next year recovering," Antles says. "It happened during the transition of owners, but we're not sure why. We had to reorganize when I took over. That has been the biggest challenge so far—getting through this last year and getting it stabilized."

Antles says she's rebuilt the business's revenue back to where it was at when she initially purchased the franchise.

Comfort Keepers' in-home care services range from personal companionship to around-the-clock nursing and hospice care, Antles says. Most of its clients are retired seniors, and Comfort Keepers' caregiving staff assists those clients with various tasks such as basic housekeeping, meal preparation, personal hygiene, medication management, and providing transportation to and from appointments or doing errands, she says.

"A lot of our clients have family out of town, so we are the eyes and the ears for them," Antles says. "When a son or daughter calls their mom or dad, things might sound fine, but we can go in and tell them if (their parent) is eating, bathing, or if they had a fall."

Clients pay by the hour for the business's services, and that cost averages about $20 an hour and is determined by the level of care provided. Antles says Comfort Keepers provides caregiving services for a minimum of one hour a day for some clients and up to 24 hours a day for others.

"If someone needs a ride, we are one of the few in-home care businesses that transport people to church, shopping, or appointments," she says. "We also help them with grocery shopping, meal planning, taking pets to the groomer, and any number of things that they might need help with."

Comfort Keepers also offers a discounted rate to married couples, and Antles says the business currently has several married clients for whom it cares.

Antles recalls that during the 4 1/2 years she worked for Comfort Keepers as a caregiver before purchasing the business, she often planned elaborate meals for some of the business's elderly couple clients. She says cooking and planning meals was one of her favorite aspects of in-home caregiving, and that many of Comfort Keepers current employees provide the same support, along with cleaning and other domestic chores.

"You get that one-on-one interaction with the clients, and you really strive to get their quality of life up," she says.

Antles says that as a caregiver for the Comfort Keepers franchise here, her goal was to provide personalized care to each client, and that remains her focus now as the business's owner.

While Comfort Keepers' caregivers provide the bulk of the business's services, Antles says any skilled-nursing duties must be handled by a registered nurse. She says Comfort Keepers coordinates such assistance through Gentiva Health Services Inc., a big Atlanta-based home-health and hospice company that has two Spokane-area offices. Gentiva also provides in-home physical therapy services to Comfort Keepers' clients who need that type of care.

Antles says that when the Schrefflers operated the franchise, it regularly served between five and eight around-the-clock, long-term clients, which generated a significant percentage of the business's overall revenue. She says Comfort Keepers currently serves just a couple of clients who receive care 24 hours a day.

"Those clients aren't easy to come by, and we do more short-term contracts," she says. "We have really consistent referrals and we maintain our referral relationships."

Antles says her business receives referrals from Gentiva, Hospice of Spokane, Rockwood Health System, and several retirement and assisted-living facilities here, as well as private care managers and several area doctors.

She says Comfort Keepers usually receives about 10 new clients a month for all levels of its in-home care services.

The business always is willing to work with families to try to keep in-home care affordable for services provided to elderly parents or relatives. In many cases, she says, Comfort Keepers' caregivers provide respite care in a situation where a family might be able to provide some care themselves.

"It can be $10,000 to $12,000 a month for around-the-clock care, so sometimes we do that with family members rotating through—so we might do nights and the family does the day shift," Antles says.

She adds that the business also works with many private caregivers in the area to provide temporary care if they become ill or are taking time off of work.

While the large majority of Comfort Keepers' clients here are seniors, Antles says she has noticed that younger people seem to be using in-home care services more often now than in years past. She says those clients might, for example, be a pregnant mother who is close to giving birth or someone who is recovering from an extensive surgery or medical procedure.

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