What if we could create a network of independent, highly connected, care homes? They would be innovative, fairly priced and an integral part of their local community. They would be great places to work, and run for the benefit of all, not to maximize profit or subject to the whims of governments. That’s our dream.
A bit of background: The care industry in the UK is in crisis (the BBC recently called it the problem no one can fix). It is a familiar story. The demand for care is growing rapidly due mainly to an ageing population, with increasingly complex conditions, a breaking down of traditional community-provided care, and higher expectations amongst the elderly.
At the same time, the ability of government-funded institutions to meet those needs is diminishing. They lack the resources, the responsiveness and the political will to deal with the population’s increasingly complex care needs.
At the same, escalating asset prices are putting pressure on traditional providers, and attracting hedge funds and private equity looking for the "growth opportunities”. The result is that many care home are being run as a businesses more than as a service, meaning that profit and shareholder value is prioritised over the needs and well-being of residents or staff.
Caring for Life is a diverse team has come together to seek a better solution. We are inspired by:
- open source communities, that harness collective intelligence to find new solutions to old problems;
- networked organisations, notably Buurtzorg, the community care provider in the Netherlands, that combine the benefits of being small with the benefits of being part of something large.
- traditional community-based approaches to care-giving that are human-centred and sustainable.
We intend to will achieve this in particular by taking over existing care home businesses and creating, one-by-one, a network of homes modelling the type of care we want to see. Once we have established a small number of our own homes, we will reach out to other like-minded operators to create a broader community of homes around the UK.
A key operating principle will be to involve all “stakeholders”. Buurtzorg (mentioned above) has an excellent model, illustrating the various levels of involvement, and whilst this is primarily looking at home care as opposed to care homes, it is a useful way of viewing the bigger picture.
Care home residents come into care with social networks, habits, routines and pastimes, which are normally stripped away on entering care. As far as possible these should be maintained because these are part of the person’s “support system”. Involving the family and friends as well as the wider community will, whilst it may add to the complexity, lighten the burden of care and increase quality of life for all affected.
Legal structure: Our intention is to separate out the capital assets from the business of caring. The precise legal structure remains to be worked out but may be similar to a so-called community land trust (see http://www.communitylandtrusts.org.uk/what-is-a-clt/about-clts) where one organisation (maybe a charity) owns the freehold of the land and a social enterprise runs the care home. There would be some element of employee ownership, which has been shown in many businesses to encourage higher than average levels of productivity and profitability.
Getting started: Our intent is to start by acquiring control of one care home. In order to keep capital needs as low as possible in the early stages, the intention is to lease premises on a long-term lease rather than buying a home. An opportunity has been identified near the south coast of England and conversations have started with the owners. This is an interesting opportunity, in particular because there is an chance to acquire the property and business for a low price. The home is currently subject to "special measures”, imposed by the Care Quality Commission.