Care begins at home

Nick McDonald founded Prestige Home Healthcare on the premise that people who are in need of care still prefer their own home. But as he tells PATRICK STAFFORD, skills shortages are putting a brake on growth.

By Patrick Stafford

Nick McDonald Prestige Home Health

Nick McDonald founded Prestige Home Healthcare on the premise that people who are in need of care still prefer their own home. So far his speculation is paying off.

Two of the biggest trends in Australia’s business community are outsourcing and the ageing of the population, and Melbourne-based care provider Prestige Home Healthcare is right at the centre of both.

Founder and manager Nick McDonald wanted to create a healthcare service for clients in the comfort of their own home. The group provides private care to the elderly as an alternative to moving into a permanent nursing home.

“The sorts of services we provide are quite varied,” McDonald says. “We have nurses and personal care servicers, who provide personal care, helping frail aged people, who perhaps have had some surgery or who are disabled, with showering, getting to the toilet, getting dressed. If they have wounds or medication issues, we have nurses who provide technical nursing in their own home.

“We’re also seeing demand for low-level services, such as taking them to the doctors, helping them do their shopping. Even socialisation, taking people out to activities they used to do but can’t really access on their own.”

Prestige has grown strongly since it was established in 2005 and now has annual revenue of $1.9 million.

Learning to say no

But because McDonald’s service places such an emphasis on individual care, he has faced tremendous human resources difficulties. While his is essentially an outsourcing business, he maintains a permanent employee base to ensure his quality of service remains high.

“If you send staff into someone’s home and they’re not doing a good job, that gets spread around and your business is going to suffer.”

He is very serious about protecting the brand. McDonald says Prestige has actually turned away a number of clients because they cannot offer the right carer. In these instances Prestige asks for the client to wait and searches for staff in the area who have the relevant medical qualifications and experience in the specific type of care the client requires.

“If a client wanted us to start on Monday and we don’t have the staff, rather than lead them on and send the wrong person, we’ll say we can’t actually do that. That’s worked in our favour and they’ll say they appreciate our honesty,” McDonald says.

“You’ve got to be ruthless if you want to maintain the quality of the staff that’s out there.”

The marketing challenge

Another difficulty has been juggling priorities. By focusing on quality of care and HR issues, McDonald says he hasn’t spent as much time on business promotion as he would like.

“Our biggest challenge is the fact people don’t know this exists. How do we let people know this is an option for them? A lot of people just aren’t aware they can have someone come and help.

“We haven’t put as much time and effort into that as I would have liked. But month upon month we continue to grow, so the sales and awareness area is going to be the next target over the next year and a half.”

Growing pains

McDonald says handling that rapid growth of the business and preparing for expansion is another problem.

After operating for only two or three months, McDonald found dozens of clients and quickly needed to expand to handle the customer base.

“Originally I thought it might take three or four months to start building a client base. I was comfortable with that; I wanted that time to set up all of our systems and policies and procedures and so forth. I didn’t do much marketing.

“No one knew we were up and running (but) I would be sitting in my office and suddenly there’d be a client on the phone. We had clients from the word go.”

The company has been forced to quickly move offices as it expanded from 10 to 80 staff. Prestige has also opened branches in NSW and Queensland.

McDonald says his goal is simple: “Our plan is dominating the private care market.”

But he knows stringent oversight and continuing to tailor staff members to clients’ individual needs will keep Prestige Health alive.

“The clients build such strong ties and bonds with their own home they want to be there as long as possible. That’s the passion behind the business.”


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