House Calls

HomeCare Advantage provides skilled nursing and non-skilled personal care; physical, occupational and speech therapy; and social services to more than 300 patients per day throughout Rhode Island.

Observing Elaine and Jim Riley work in tandem to break into their office after locking themselves and a visitor out was akin to watching an expertly conducted symphony.

Elaine used her cell phone, calling nearby family and employees who had a key, while Jim tried to jimmy the lock. Almost simultaneously, Elaine reached her daughter and Jim’s efforts gave way to an open door. With that bullet dodged, the couple sat down to discuss how they came to run HomeCare Advantage, their award-winning home healthcare agency.

As young professionals, each worked separately. Elaine ‘68 worked as a medical surgical nurse at Kent Hospital in Warwick, R.I., and later, as a psychiatric nurse at Fuller Memorial Hospital in Attleboro, Mass. Jim, who earned a B.S. in electrical engineering in 1966 and an M.B.A. in 1972, both from URI, enjoyed a career at Verizon and its predecessor companies.

Although Elaine earned invaluable experience in the hospitals, she walked away from the job security those settings offer to join a medical supply company and sell anti-decubitus mattresses and related products that help prevent bed sores.

“I took a chance because I knew that I had to learn sales if I wanted to get ahead. I was on the road, cold calling hospitals, nursing homes, and durable medical equipment companies.”

Elaine soon learned that her marketing skills were as sharp as her nursing acumen and continued to pursue opportunities that would allow her to utilize her unique blend of sales and direct patient care experiences. A position as marketing supervisor for a national home healthcare organization proved to be the turning point for Elaine.

“It was my first exposure to home healthcare, and I loved it. It is the only venue where you can see the entire patient—how she or he interacts with family members and how that interaction impacts care and recovery.”

Drawing on the same entrepreneurial spirit that drove her earlier career decisions, in 1988 Elaine decided to establish her own company—a bold move given that nonprofit organizations dominated the home healthcare industry. Now, more than 20 years later, HomeCare Advantage, accredited by the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, provides skilled nursing and non-skilled personal care; physical, occupational and speech therapy; and social services to more than 300 patients per day throughout Rhode Island.

As the company grew, so did the Riley family’s involvement. Jim, who retired from Verizon’s marketing department in 1996 after 30 years of service, became the company’s chief financial officer, and daughter Cheryl, who was called upon to unlock the office doors, serves as director of patient services.

“I always helped with the accounting and billing, but now she asks me to fix things around the office,” says Jim with a laugh. Since assuming his leadership role, Jim has introduced high-tech benefits to this company that bases its success on caring personal interactions with its clients.

“I have given all the nurses laptops loaded with CareAnyware, Inc., software, a Web-based application that allows them to complete lengthy evaluation forms and enter patient notes electronically,” Jim explains. “Information is uploaded every 12 hours to a secure server, saving our nurses a great deal of documentation time.” These time-saving measures allow the nurses to provide more hands-on care.

Demand for this personalized, in-home service is growing rapidly as the population ages. The need is especially keen in Rhode Island. According to 2006 Census Bureau figures, nearly 14 percent of the state’s residents are 65 or older, ranking it eighth in the nation. “No one wants to go to a costly nursing home, and with the services we provide, many can stay at home—even centenarians. We service a 100+-year-old client who still bowls,” says Elaine.

The need is also rising for pediatric home care. “Rhode Island has been a frontrunner in providing care for the young and has allocated a great deal of money to physically handicapped children,” says Elaine.

“Of course, the nursing shortage limits how much work we can take on. Nurses are in high demand. They can name where they want to work and at what price. But I have been very fortunate; 45 out of 200 current employees have been with me for five years, and another 30 have 10 or more years of service. I offer them a great deal of flexibility. Some are moms who only want to work weekends, and others are full-time employees who rarely have to work a weekend. That is almost unheard of in a hospital.”

Elaine cites HomeCare Advantage’s stellar reputation as another reason she attracts and retains employees. The HomeCare Elite 2007 report ranks it among the most successful Medicare-certified home healthcare providers in the United States. Published by Outcomes Concept Systems, a national healthcare outcomes reporting agency, the report recognizes the top 25 percent of agencies whose performance measures in quality outcomes, quality improvement, and financial performance are the best nationwide.

Moreover, Quality Partners of Rhode Island, a healthcare quality improvement agency, honored HomeCare Advantage with its 2007 Advancing Innovation in Healthcare Award. The company was recognized for its work in improving the quality of life for clients with congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Given these accolades, it is not surprising that current URI nursing students can learn from the best and complete their community health clinical practicum through HomeCare Advantage, where four staff nurses serve as preceptors. In addition to the applied knowledge gained through this experience, the students also benefit from Elaine’s personal lessons learned during her journey from hospital nurse to business owner.

“I tell the students to keep their options open. I always wanted to own a business, and I saw an opportunity to do both things I love. It has been my greatest thrill in life. That is not to say that it has not been without risk or sacrifice, but you have to have a dream and believe in yourself.”

—  By Maria V. Caliri ’86, M.B.A. ’92