When Phil Schmidt’s aging mother suffered a double concussion, it seemed to him that the caregiving industry didn’t operate like the process-driven companies with which he had been involved. So the former auto dealer executive started his own company, SeniorKare.
“I told my wife, you know, we did a better job of onboarding people to the service department of our dealership than I’m seeing some of these companies do with human lives as it relates to onboarding the caregiver and making sure that a care plan’s written, making sure that there’s a code of ethics to follow and standards to set,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt formed SeniorKare in 2014 with the goal of ensuring his company had those things. He used the pros and cons of his mother’s experiences to develop the company’s code of ethics.
“We’re not that no-show company,” he said. “We’re not that late company. We’re not a sitter company. We’re a caregiving company. We believe in actively engaging people in the daily activities of life and living.”
Eight years after its founding, SeniorKare has about 200 employees and serves about 100 clients in Arkansas and northern Mississippi. It’s entirely privately paid. Salaries are driven by the types of duties caregivers perform and the number of clients they are serving at once. He does not use contract labor because he wants clients and caregivers to have relationships built on continuity and consistency.
Schmidt recruits his own caregivers. During the onboarding process, he shares with each new employee the company’s code of ethics, which includes not overusing a cell phone. Once employees are on board, Schmidt tries to remain accessible and available. He said he’d received 3-4 calls from caregivers that day.
“I saw in my own personal experiences, it was very seldom if any that the caregiver even knew who the owner of the company was, much less be interviewed by that owner and have that owner be able to reflect what the culture is of the company and what the expectations would be of the employee. … My feeling’s always been, if you’re going to have a good external customer, it starts with a good internal customer,” he said.
The company serves a variety of clients. While some are at the end of life and preferring to die at home, others are needing only a few days’ care after they recover from surgery. Others need only part-time help with nutritious meals, or companionship to help them remain active. If clients move from home to independent or assisted living, his caregivers often go with them.
Schmidt was retired at age 58 when he started the company, but he wasn’t ready to leave the work world. Previously, he’d spent many years working in his family’s auto dealerships. When that company was sold to United Auto Group, he remained in a corporate role for five years and then owned DirectBuy savings clubs in Memphis and Little Rock. After he sold those to junior partners, he went to work as vice president of sales for DirectBuy’s corporate offices for three years.
He was on a consulting job in Chicago when his mother, Marian “Tootsie” Schmidt, suffered a double concussion during an accident at her home in Magnolia.
Schmidt believes the personal care business model will continue to grow. Hospitals are looking to move people to their homes. COVID accelerated the trend toward people wanting to live within the safety of their own residences.
He called the company “the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my career, honestly.”
Schmidt, 65, said he’s learned through his experiences that death has definite and consistent stages. Marian died this past January at age 92 after a two-and-a-half year battle with bulbar ALS. He said he was prepared to watch her go through the process.
“Personally, it has made me realize that it is just the cycle of life, and that what I used to look at it as this big mystery and question mark and a little scary is now pretty miraculous, and it’s more standardized of a system than I ever thought,” he said.