We often think of firefighters putting out fires, risking their lives entering burning buildings to save people, and responding to life-threatening emergencies. People don’t often consider that firefighters are also called upon by elderly, ill, and disabled people to assist with smaller emergencies when they have no one else to turn to. Bianca Wise knows this all too well. As a Baltimore County paramedic and firefighter for twenty years, Bianca was the first Black woman in the department’s 180-year history to be promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. Her department frequently responded to 911 calls from elderly people or vulnerable adults who had fallen and were unable to get up, felt ill, or were otherwise struggling. They did not want to go to the hospital, which can be a traumatizing and overwhelming experience. They wanted to maintain their independence in their own homes, rather than moving to a care facility, but did not have anyone to provide ongoing care. Some of these callers were “regulars” who routinely called upon Bianca as a trusted companion, and she always did her best to help.
As Bianca was preparing to retire, she got a call out of the blue from the national Home Helpers Home Care headquarters presenting her with an opportunity to open a franchise. Intrigued, Bianca flew to Cincinnati in August 2018 to meet the corporate office team and learn more about the business model. She knew it was meant to be. She flew back to Baltimore, finalized her retirement from the fire department, and got to work starting the franchise under her company “Wise Choice, LLC.” The agency, known as Home Helpers Home Care in Northwest Baltimore, officially opened in November 2019.
Support for adults with continuing care needs & their loved ones
Home Helpers Home Care offers compassionate and exceptional care for seniors and people with continuing care needs. According to Bianca, most seniors want to stay in their own homes but the realities of aging-in-place make that difficult over time. And it’s not easy for family and friends to be caretakers. Bianca calls the children of seniors the “sandwich generation” because they struggle between the responsibility of caring for their own children, jobs, and other personal obligations, and the responsibility of caring for their aging parents. On top of that, caretaking is a physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting job that most people are not prepared to handle. As Bianca explains, “It’s emotionally hard to watch your mom or dad age through this process and get to a point where the lose the ability to function.”
That’s where Home Helpers Home Care comes in. Professional caregivers provide a range of household support such as feeding and walking pets, doing laundry, prepping meals, paying bills, and cleaning. They also provide “activities of daily living” such as bathing, dressing, toileting, and grooming. Additionally, Home Helpers partners with medical facilities to offer “door-to-door service” for clients receiving treatment by driving them to the facility, staying throughout the appointment or procedure, picking up any necessary prescriptions, driving them home, and ensuring they have everything they need when they get home. The company serves a wide variety of clients such as seniors with continuing care needs; military veterans who get referred by the U.S. Veterans Administration; people with chronic illnesses or disabilities; and people recovering from surgery.
According to Bianca, professional caregivers serve the dual purpose of supporting the home-bound individual and reducing stress on their loved ones. Caregivers bridge the gap between the home-bound individual’s needs and their family’s needs, allowing everyone to spend quality time together without worrying about tasks. Clients’ children don’t have to rush to their parent’s house after work, take care of issues and tasks, then rush home to do it all over again with their own children. Bianca understands that entrusting a family member to a caregiver is a big deal. “The family wants to feel safe letting the caregiver move around the house. We have to build up to a comfort level and level of trust.” That starts as soon as the client contacts Home Helpers and Bianca speaks with them personally. Then, she and a caregiver visit the client’s home to get a good understanding of their needs and make sure the caregiver will be a good fit. The family and any decision-makers are invited to participate in the process and ask questions every step of the way. This also allows clients to get what they really want, and what we all really want, perhaps more than anything else: companionship. Case in point, one of Home Helper’s clients is typically temperamental, distraught, and forgetful as a result of dementia. However, the client’s daughter has shared that her mother perks up dramatically when her caregiver arrives. They enjoy watching old movies together while chatting and bantering over the best-looking actor in the movie.
A booming business led by a passionate owner
When Covid-19 hit in 2020, Home Helpers experienced an astounding 700% growth in business, most likely because people were unable or did not want to leave their homes more than ever. Bianca realized she needed more money to meet the growing need. In March of 2021, a loan from Baltimore Community Lending allowed Home Helpers to hire additional employees (bringing the number of employees from 16 to 42), obtain a HR consultant, and pay for rent, marketing, and business operations expenses.
One of those employees is Celldric Forghab, who was promoted to Staffing Coordinator after being a caregiver. His favorite part of being a caregiver was developing meaningful, lasting relationships with clients. “A good caregiver has passion and is compassionate,” he says. It can be challenging working with home-bound people, but it’s a challenge he enjoyed. One of Cedric’s favorite clients was a senior who “put on a tough act,” but Cedric was able to see through his veneer. Despite giving Cedric a hard time, the client loved taking Cedric for joy rides in his antique car, gave him gifts, and frequently asked him to visit.
Business is still booming at Home Helpers. In addition to extensive organic growth, Home Helpers was able to secure contracts with the U.S. Veterans Administration and the Maryland State Department of Human Services. Caring.com awarded the business a Caring Star of 2022 this past April for being one of America’s top home-care agencies, as chosen by seniors and their families.
Bianca knew she needed more capital to fulfill the demand. A year after getting its first loan, Home Helpers got a second loan from BCL to hire an additional 40 employees, including a full-time Operations Manager and a marketing consultant. Angella Aizire, the BCL loan officer who underwrote both loans, was confident that the funding was needed and would be used strategically. “When I met Bianca, I knew right away she was an entrepreneur with a strong drive to succeed. I’m glad BCL was able to provide Home Helpers with adequate and affordable capital to avoid cash flow disruptions, which could have hampered operations,” she says.
Bianca remains confident that success will continue coming her way. Although there are ups and downs, and sometimes questions if she’s doing the right thing, she’s up for the challenge. Her advice to other entrepreneurs? “When that vision shows up, follow it. People will say no, or there will be a pandemic, or something else will happen. But if you have passion and vision, it’s going to work…the hurdles aren’t so bad when you get over them.”