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Care Package

As a hospital nurse, Donna Cozell was assigned to follow up on high-risk elderly patients who were discharged to precarious home settings. The experience made her realize that seniors often need help to be able to stay in their own homes. A year ago, Cozell opened a franchise office of Omaha-based Home Instead Senior Care, a nonmedical home-care provider service that has more than 100 outlets nationwide. She says her most crucial job is to hire and retain high-quality employees. Cozell was interviewed by freelance writer Karen E. Klein.

The senior citizens who are our clients are very susceptible to fraud and very vulnerable generally, so if I hire someone who does not care for a client properly, it would be a terrible thing for me personally, as well as pose a risk to the reputation of our company.

I start out the hiring process with a profile of an ideal caregiver that was developed by our main office. We generally look for women who are mature emotionally and physically because they have often cared for an elderly parent or grandparent themselves and they have the compassion and patience that’s needed. Most of my caregivers tend to be in their 40s and older. I also hire seniors, who have become some of my best caregivers.

Our main office provides us with a videotape on the company and what kinds of employees we are looking for, so I show that during the interview. It emphasizes that we need employees who are honest, trustworthy and reliable.

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I also spend a lot of time talking to each candidate and doing very thorough reference checks. We require at least six references, both business and personal, and we spend a lot of time talking to those references.

We can’t be too careful with our clients’ well-being, so we never skip criminal background checks. I will not hire someone I would not be comfortable using to care for an elderly relative of mine.

After candidates get through the interview, reference and background checks, I call them in for an orientation and training day.

I try to start new caregivers out with small jobs in the beginning. After they get started, I follow up with my clients and their families, asking what time the caregiver gets to the job and if they are satisfied with the service.

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Once I get great people on the job, I work hard to keep them. When employees call to report a problem or make a suggestion about a client, I will listen and tell them I appreciate their feedback. I will talk to the family if the caregiver is concerned about the client. Caregivers shouldn’t feel their concerns are going unheard.

Every week, I try to have breakfast or lunch with at least one caregiver, just to touch base and provide support. When problems arise, I am honest and I explain things to them and we try various ways to work through the situation.

Finally, I’ve never run into anybody who feels that their boss has given them too much praise. So I acknowledge good deeds and accomplishments and I treat them with respect and kindness. To be appreciated is just as important as a paycheck to many people.

If your business can provide a lesson to other entrepreneurs, contact Karen E. Klein at the Los Angeles Times, 1333 S. Mayflower Ave., Suite 100, Monrovia 91016 or send e-mail to Kklein6349@aol.com. Include your name, address and telephone number.

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* MORE SMALL BUSINESS: D4

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At A Glance

* Company: Home Instead Senior Care

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* Owner: Donna Cozell

* Nature of business: Nonmedical home care for seniors

* Location: 23542 Lyons Ave., Santa Clarita

* Founded: 1997

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* Employees: 35

* Projected revenue: $200,000


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