Turnaround_to_transformationHC-One founder and chairman Dr CHAI PATEL CBE FRCP talks to Caring Times editor Geoff Hodgson about what his company has achieved in the last five years.
 
National care home operator HC-One is celebrating its first five years since its phoenix-like rise from the ashes of the failed Southern Cross in 2011 and is launching its fresh new branding as HC-One: The Kind Care Company. With a client base of predominantly state-funded residents, the company now runs over 230 care homes across England, Scotland and Wales.
 
“We feel that HC-One has finally got to a position where we have moved from a turnaround to a transformation place,” said Dr Chai Patel, the company’s chairman and founder. “We now have the people, the systems and the vision to be a national provider. Our hope is that, when people come to HC-One, they will trust and recognise us as the first-choice provider delivering the kindest care, meaning that a very difficult decision will be made easier for them.”
 
I expressed some doubt about the level of care home brand awareness in the general community and Chai said he thought it was a matter of scale and distribution:
 
“If you are a visible, media-based brand where people see you every day, you could be very small and still be well-known. But if you are a local, community service provider, like us, across the whole country then, until you have a certain amount of scale, where people just happen to see the name, or see a home very frequently, it is not going to be in everybody’s psyche.
 
“What I mean when I talk about brand awareness and trust is that, because many of our clients are publicly-funded, if the public commissioners understand us and the kind care that we deliver, then we have created a trust with our partners who in turn should feel that, if they refer clients to us, those clients will receive good service. We have a commissioning team that comes from the public sector, who work very closely with local authorities and CCGs. This has allowed us to build a better understanding of what our commissioners want.”
 
Colleagues and a Common Cause
 
Chai stressed that the company’s move from the turnaround mode was due mainly to the efforts and commitment of HC-One’s some 14,000 staff whom he refers to as colleagues.
 
“It’s their vision and values aligned with ours that has made this happen,” he said. “Without the support of all our colleagues, we couldn’t have achieved what we have in these five years. This is about fourteen thousand people, not me or one of my leaders. They have truly rallied to the cause and have shown huge commitment. We have listened to what our people have said and through that, have developed what is the culture of HC-One right now, so a big ‘thank you’ needs to go to our colleagues up and down the country.”
 
I asked Chai if, given that a new chief executive, Justin Hutchens, had been recently appointed to HC-One, if Chai himself was reducing his involvement in the care sector.
 
“HC-One and CMG (a specialist care provider) are the two core social care organisations on which I am focused. They will remain my primary focus and I will function as more of an executive chairman whilst Justin finds his bearings in the UK and gets himself comfortable, but I will remain very actively involved with both companies.
 
“It is very surprising to stay in something like social care for more than 30 years, but it is my passion. Social care is what keeps me going and there is no reason for me to stop being part of it, and being involved in it in a different way.
 
“I hope to see some significant change in the way care is delivered and commissioned across the UK. It does feel like we are at some kind of tipping point, where there is some real unity amongst the political parties, the public and private sectors. I hope the for-profit, private sector will play a very big role in providing the public services of our country. Hopefully I can bring some of my experience to bear on some of the thinking around that.”
 
Change at a snail’s pace
 
I suggested that if the evolution of health and care services he had referred to was happening at all, it was doing so at a snail’s pace.
 
“I think it is taking a lot longer to evolve in the direction that we need to evolve,” Chai replied. “Everybody agrees that we need to move towards a community-based health and social care system, everybody agrees that we need to work in partnership, but for all sorts of reasons – funding, culture, trust between the public and the private sector – those issues have taken longer to be addressed but I think the time is getting closer and closer. We are doing everything we can at HC-One to provide the kindest and most affordable care, and we hope that the new Government makes health and social care a priority for the foreseeable future. I don’t know if it will be another five years, another 10 years, but I think some of the change may come from societal pressure rather than from policy-makers.”
 
Dr Patel identified working in partnership as a key factor behind HC-One’s performance during its first five years:
 
“It’s a very core value of mine; involvement, accountability and partnership is what Court Cavendish was built on and we like to believe that our two key platforms, HC-One and CMG, live by that core value of partnership,” he said.
 
“We are now looking at how we can shape the things for the future rather than focusing on a turnaround. We have made massive investments; in both the renovation of our homes and the training and development of our colleagues. The more our home managers, deputies and team leaders can see a company which offers opportunities for personal development, the more opportunities there are for us to recruit the best people. Over the next five to 10 years there should be fantastic opportunities in the care sector for younger people to work in a field where they can not only have the gratification of making a difference, but also have the access to training and career pathways that lead to better pay and opportunities.
 
“We believe that our ideas around learning and development, systems and processes, our way of working, investment and leadership makes us a company  that is innovating. We have a care assistant development programme, an ascent programme for personal development, we are introducing wi-fi across all our homes now. This moves us into a whole different personal experience for our colleagues, our residents and their relatives.
 
“And then there is our philosophy of kindness: when we came on this journey, people hadn’t seen a company which had at its heart a vision that was around an experience. We just wanted to be the kindest care home operator.”
I asked if the kindness vision had worked.
 
“We think it has,” said Chai. “When we talk to our colleagues and our communities, when we get a 9.4 out of 10 rating from feedback on carehome.co.uk, the reason we are one of the best providers as rated by the people who use and visit our services, is because this journey of kindness has ensured that we align all our behaviours around that outcome.”
 
I remarked that, given HC-One’s drive to be a national provider with a strong, positive profile in local communities, the care home manager’s role is so demanding that they have little time for direct community engagement, attending local business breakfasts and so on.
 
Chai agreed this was the case and that increasingly, in the last 10 years the role of the manager had become much more inward-facing.
 
“Rightly so, their first concern has to be the quality of care being provided to residents ,” he said. “If you talked to a headmaster they would probably tell you it is the same in schools.
 
“But to resolve this, we provide our home managers with the opportunity to develop themselves within a group of homes and support each other in delivering on all aspects of the role.  This is one of the reasons we look to create a collection of homes within a local community.
 
“The opportunity now is to continue to grow, to be the local community home, and deliver on our aim to be the first-choice care provider for those looking for the kindest care and first-choice for the best and most professional staff. The unique endeavour for me is to see if I can build a company which is both national and local at the same time. I know I’m not the first one to do it, but I think if you can empower your colleagues and leaders at a local level, whilst the homes may be HC-One homes, with the infrastructure that provides, they should be community homes the play a key part in the local fabric.”