Touching Hearts Reaches Out

Friday, March 30, 2007

A home-care business for the elderly looks to expand via franchising

Renae Olafson has seen so much success from her at-home caregiving business that she is taking it on the road. Touching Hearts at Home is a privately funded home-care business specializing in the assistance of the elderly and disabled. With an independence-oriented clientele, the company has seen rising success since it was founded in 1996. Touching Hearts operates local offices in St. Paul, St. Cloud and Duluth. Now, founder and CEO Olafson is working with independent franchise owners to expand the business nationwide. "In a matter of years we hope to be in every state. The demand is there and the response here has been nothing but warm, so why not expand?" Olafson said. Olafson launched Touching Hearts at Home at the start of 2007, changing its previous name of Caring Companions to reflect its expansion and better illustrate the company's goal to assist seniors with living in their own home. "There will always be a place for the traditional nursing homes because there are always things we just cannot do, but at the same time we can do so much that traditional care can't, and more times than not we can be very cost-effective," Olafson said. "Home-care companies don't have walls; we can work with traditional home-care services and can add a more comfortable surrounding for clients who want to stay independent," said Alan Furst, director of White Bear Lake's Visiting Angels living-assistance services, another national home-care company. Personalized attention is what traditional nursing homes and assisted-living facilities cannot always offer, according to Olafson. As part of the Touching Hearts program, each client is matched with a caregiver who is trained to assist in everything from housework and meal preparation to assisting clients with trips to the doctor's office and daily errands. The program requires clients to work with their caregivers a minimum of three hours each week, with the availability of 24-hour care if needed. Clients see the same caregiver each time they meet, Olafson said, so that "they get used to seeing the same face, and the relationship is more than just professional." The company has offices in four states in addition to Minnesota, and Olafson expects to have more than 40 franchises nationwide by the end of the year. Franchises are for sale throughout Wisconsin, Virginia, Florida and North Carolina. Olafson estimates the independent franchise owners will reach close to $720,000 in gross revenues by their fourth year. "Within eight years our goal is to go international," she said. As the baby boomers near retirement age, the need for at-home living assistance will be in high demand, according to Jim Comstock, owner of multiple Merry Maids home-cleaning franchises in Virginia Beach. Comstock is new to the caregiving industry, but has been studying the increase in demand for the past few years and will be opening his Virginia Beach Touching Hearts franchise by early fall. "There is going to be a major shortage in senior-care services as time goes by because of the number of retirees and their desire to remain independent," Comstock said. Touching Hearts will remain entirely non-medical through its expansion and will provide in-office training for all of its employees. Finding qualified employees has presented itself as a challenge in the past, and Olafson expects it to be the biggest hurdle going forward. "Finding good caregivers who have the patience and desire to do this work isn't always easy," Olafson said, adding that the majority of her employees are themselves members of the baby boom generation. Because many of her clients suffer from Alzheimer's and dementia, it is critical to have employees who are trained properly, Olafson said. Operating her business nationally will be less of a challenge, she feels. "As long as we keep true to what we are doing and why we are doing it, I am confident we will see long-term success," Olafson said.

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Touching Hearts, Inc.
7505 Metro Boulevard Suite 340
Minneapolis, MN

Phone: (952) 698-5422
Toll Free: (877) 870-8750
Fax: (651) 452-7829

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