The idea came to Sherwin Sheik after seeing his family struggle to coordinate home health care for a blind, quadriplegic sister suffering from multiple sclerosis and a Lou Gehrig’s disease-stricken uncle needing around-the-clock care.
Why not build a website and resource center easing a family’s search for credentialed and reputable caregivers?
Why allow families to endure what his own went through in reaching out and seeking care?
A year later, CareLinx, a California-based online platform dedicated to connecting to families to caregivers, toasts an anniversary of making the quest for quality home care less daunting for over 100,000 households.
Founder and CEO Sheik was pleased to count himself among the 100-plus entrepreneurs who showcased their product and service lines to support senior home health care at the five-day American Society on Aging’s annual conference titled 2013 Aging in America in mid-March in downtown Chicago this year.
“What I needed to provide was [an easy resource for finding and tracking caregivers],” Sheik said, exhibiting at a booth in the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Wacker Drive and after presenting on a panel about caregiving.
“It’s not just providing services. It’s also about serving as an educating team and determining how to help families. Our site offers FAQs and accepts feedback online. [We developed the site after] figuring out the commonalities in medical issues such as Lou Gehrig’s disease and multiple sclerosis versus just providing services for an elderly person who is frail.”
Sheik, who said that he has worked in health care for 13 years, explained that he started CareLinx in Los Angeles while working as a healthcare analyst and investor. His career includes serving as equity derivative trader with Merrill Lynch in London and working in corporate and research and development finance at Amgen, Inc.
His family faced a number of hurdles in securing care for his sister and uncle. His mother lived in San Francisco while his sister lived in Los Angeles. His mother traveled often to handle his sister’s care. His aunt paid $85,000 to find care on the private market. Problems such as theft by caregivers arose.
Two years ago, he quit his job to launch CareLinx full-time. Sheik hired information technology engineers and programmers and communicated to his hires how his business model would work. His team raised $2 million in financing. The goal was to design an accessible, safe and risk-free clearinghouse of licensed, bonded and insured home health care workers.
“It’s interesting,” Sheik said. “I have connections with FCA [Family Caregiver Alliance]. We are tackling ALS [Lou Gehrig’s disease]. We are active in the [caregiving] community. In terms of background, I did not reinvent the wheel. I [approached the caregiver groups, nonprofits and government agencies] and said, ‘We want to leverage your expertise. I’m smart with partnerships to provide the solution.”
The network is meant as an alternative to traditional agencies, which can charge families in excess of 75 percent of caregiver salaries, he said. Sheik added that, through his network, families save 40 percent in searching costs and caregivers earn 25 percent more for their work.
As visitors browse the site, they find profiles of caregivers in their immediate area. Customers complete a survey and the company contacts them to guide them in choosing a caregiver based on their care needs and budget.
“At first, we did not know the caregivers and the families,” he said. “We asked the families, ‘How did you go about [searching for care]?’ They said they would go to the job boards or to agencies to hire caregivers.”
Families have access to background checks of caregivers conducted by the company. The company handles insurance coverage, paperwork and taxes.
Some visitors can also post jobs free of charge for caregivers to apply. Caregivers set their own hourly rates and salaries, which the two parties negotiate. The company states that the hourly rates are lower and greater flexibility exists for families to locate and secure caregivers.
If customers have chosen caregivers and like the service, they pay a 15 percent service fee and can opt to upgrade their membership levels and fees for greater access to an entire system of background checks, references, the caregivers by e-mail and interviews.
Caregivers log in their hours on the website’s tracking tool. Weekly invoices are sent to the customer for approval. Then, the company charges the customers’ credit or debit cards and deposit caregivers’ earnings in their bank accounts.
Sheik talks to professional caregivers who are eventually listed on his site, especially registered nurses or skilled nursing professionals. He performs the marketing and sales for the company. He confers with his company partners and they share suggestions on how to improve the site to meet a growing demand for services of this type.
Sheik is able to connect federal benefits and entitlement policy with his work. “The reason I started this is [in part] because I saw cutbacks for care,” he said. “I see better outcomes at home. I saw my own family struggle with care for my sister and uncle. I built my solution around what families need. We got a roundtable to help families find affordable healthcare.
“I gave up a lot to start this. [I had to ask myself: Do I want to make more money or do I want to make a difference?”
Asked why private investors and federal policymakers do not support a fuller development of senior long-term care and home health care industries to meet caregiving demand and spur economic growth, Sheik said that a lack of overall leadership and encouragement are factors.
“It is a lack of knowledge and education among the venture capitalists and the public,” he said. “People are afraid of making a bet in the space. The information technology specialists say it is [the responsibility of the healthcare industry]. The healthcare industry says it is [the responsibility of the information technology industry]. The venture capitalists don’t want to touch it.
“They don’t comprehend that this is a new industry and they see the demand. I act as an educator. This is a problem and there are opportunities. The problem is that five to ten years will be up and the venture capitalists will jump when the pain is numbed.”
He said that the effort toward developing long-term care and home health care begins with educating the public and investors.
“The hardest part is educating people,” Sheik said. “Everyone sees the issues. It’s not like these problems will be resolved overnight or we will be solving serious issues instantly. This is how long it will take.”
This article was originally published September 2013 on the website of PharmPsych.com, one of seven websites that comprise The Pharm Psych Network, a medical communications and education company.