Alternative Care Reaches Out to
are the lifeline for Maureen Flak’s booming home health care services
Flak’s growing company provides home health care services
Susan Gordon The News Tribune (February 1, 1988)
into a converted one-car garage in a quiet, residential neighborhood
in Fircrest, is the headquarters of a bustling business where
the telephones are seldom at rest.
communication is crucial to Alternative Care Home Services Inc.,
a home health-care agency owned and operated by registered nurse
don’t go anywhere without the phones,” said Flak, who along with
other supervisory nurses, has a mobile phone. The agency’s phone
network serves as a lifeline for home-bound clients or Alternative
Care personnel who need emergency aid, she said.
energetic and fast-talking 37-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y., native
started the business on a dare after she was laid off by a competitor
which had eliminated its local office because it lacked clientele.
crazy, there’s a market out here,” Flak recalled saying in reaction
to the April 1985 closure decision by Kelly Assisted Living Services,
where Flak had worked as a field-nursing supervisor. Kelly shut
down because it had only nine Tacoma-area clients. Flak, however,
was convinced a lot more people could be served.
business was launched after her principal sounding board, husband
Dan, a database engineer with R & D Associates in Lakewood,
urged her to put her money where her mouth was. The couple invested
$10,000 initially and used some municipal bonds as credit collateral
to get the business rolling on Aug. 1, 1985
the time, Flak had 15 employees and two clients and ran the show
out of her den. The business now has 156 employees, most of whom
are employed on a temporary and part-time basis. Each week, Alternative
Care serves between 60 and 80 people, providing between 1,000
and 3,000 hours of care, she said. The business had sales in excess
of $500,000 during its last fiscal year, which ended July 31,
but Flak said It has expanded significantly since then.
Alternative Care’s growth rate, in fact, has been the
most surprising part of the business Flak, who shares her tiny
headquarters with five other women. She is looking forward to
moving the business out of the home she shares with her husband
and two teen-agers to office space Flak hopes to find in nearby
business already serves clients in South King County and Kitsap
County, and within the next year or 18 months, Flak plans to set
up satellite offices in Bremerton and Spokane. She describes Alternative
Care as being in the forefront of changes in the health-care industry,
which is more rapidly than ever moving patients out of the hospitals
and into long-term care facilities or back into their homes.
Alternative Care provides is custodial, in-home service to people
who can’t manage total independence, she said. Clients include
children and the handicapped, but most of the people Alternative
Car assists are elderly. The average age of clients is 75. Most
need help three or four days each week for two to four hours a
Care provides many levels of service, ranging from performing
simple household chores to specialized hands-on care. More than
70 percent of the time, what’s called for is simple assistance
in walking, eating and dressing.
times, Flak and her staff have extended themselves beyond a specific
request for assistance, noted Lois Lane, a social worker at Humana
Hospital Tacoma. Lane recalled an Instance when an elderly woman
was discharged from the hospital just before Christmas. Although
she lived alone and was at risk of falling, she decided not to
hire an agency such as Alternative Care to help her out.
Flak and her staff decided to telephone the woman at home in the
evenings to make sure she was well. When the phone went unanswered
the second night, the agency notified Tacoma police and an Alternative
Care nurse met them at the scene. When the police entered the
apartment they found that the woman had fallen in the bathroom.
The woman was transported to the emergency room and subsequently
of the other operations might be less persistent,” said Lane.
“That really impressed me, that she (Flak) was willing to do that.
She didn’t know if she’d get paid; she didn’t know this lady at
all. She really does care about these senior people.”
Carenbauer, admissions director at Manor Care of Meadow Park Convalescent
and Rehabilitation Center, also commends Flak’s work. “Maureen
runs an excellent business.. She is outstanding in care,” said
Carenbauer, who frequently refers patients to Alternative Care
agency has a number of competitors. Flak isn’t sure how large
of share of the local home health market Alternative Care has
captured. One drawback is that Alternative Care is a newcomer
in the field and therefore lacks Medicare certification. However,
Flak is optimistic that the agency will become eligible when authorities
recognize the need. She believes that agency eventually will be
able to deliver 5,000 hours of care in the Tacoma area every week.
said she has managed to succeed in part because of her limited
overhead, which has allowed her to keep prices 10-20 percent lower
than the competition. Alternative care services range from $6.50
an hour for simple homemaker service to $17.50 an hour for a nurse,
she said. Staff pay starts at $4.05 as hour.
business almost hit a snag about a year ago when Flak was forced
to turn away prospective clients because she didn’t have the staff
to take care of them, she said. But a chance meeting with Sharon
McGavick, director of the Institute for Business and Industry
at Tacoma Community College, led to a solution to the labor shortage,
who calls Flak “a real dynamo,” suggested that she apply for a
grant through the job skills program of the state Board for Vocational
Education. The state eventually approved a total of $81,000 in
funds for Alternative Care’s 15 week training program, which consists
of both classroom work and on-the-job training.
learn how to safely move the bedridden from place to place and
other basic, nursing-related skills. When the grant ends in September,
as many as 150 people will have been trained for Alternative Care
jobs, McGavick said.
care is new,” said Flak, who added that the training program has
solved her staffing problems. Most of the people seeking home-health-care
jobs lack formal training and there aren’t many texts or publications
dealing with it, she said. The training program ensures that staff
members know the approved methods of care and what is expected
of them as Alternative Care employees, Flak said.
have been laid to expand Alternative Care’s educational function
by offering a certified nursing assistant training program approved
by the Department of Labor and Industries, Flak said.
providing training opportunities, the company ensures a measure
of staff loyalty and at the same time stimulates the individual
growth of personnel, Flak said. Many of her staff members are
displaced homemakers, single parents with families to support,