Gilbert resident Chuck Bongiovanni was working as a home-health social worker in 1994 when he visited a 10-bed group home with mostly late-stage Alzheimer’s and dementia residents. He met a 72-year-old woman whose mind was sharp and who seemed to be in a different stage of life than her peers.
When he asked her why she was living in that facility, she replied “this was the only place that my daughter knew.”
That conversation caused Bongiovanni to realize that some seniors and their families don’t understand the many types of assisted living facilities that are available in Arizona and how to find the right one.
Partly as a result of that experience, he decided to quit his job as a social worker and set up a senior housing referral business to help families find the best match for their loved ones who are no longer able to live unassisted at home.
For 15 years, CarePatrol has guided families through one-on-one consultations, personally driving them to living facilities for tours, coordinating financing and conducting follow-up visits.
Seeing a need for this type of service throughout the U.S., Bongiovanni decided this year to expand his business by becoming a franchisor. Since April, Bongiovanni has sold CarePatrol franchises for Mesa, Scottsdale, Phoenix, the West Valley and Tucson, retaining the Gilbert-Chandler territory for himself. CarePatrol franchises have also been established in Houston, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Charlotte, N.C.
Bongiovanni has a goal of 150 locations by 2015.
He said the business has grown rapidly because of demand for the services.
“The average assisted living resident is 84, and the largest population boom going on now is people 85 and above,” he said. “Also, people want to find safe places. When they go on their own, they are somewhat at the whims of the marketer.”
CarePatrol’s services are free to clients. The company is reimbursed by about 800 senior living facilities in Arizona that are part of its network.
Bongiovanni has set up an algorithm that grades facilities based on their state citation reports. He only refers clients to those with grades of A or B.
“We won’t contract with a home that we grade a C, D or F,” he said. “There are some facilities with 40 or more citations. Some have chandeliers in the front lobby.”
Bongiovanni, who previously worked in franchise sales for two years, decided to expand using the franchise method because it would be faster.
“Rather than opening offices yourself, you are partnering with other people who you train,” he said. “They put up the money to start the office, which is a quicker way to expand. And owners will do a better job than employees would.”
Sandy Messer, who has purchased the Mesa, Scottsdale and West Valley franchises with her husband, said she finds the work “very rewarding.”
“It has blended my business interests with being able to serve a generation of people that needed help,” she said. “It’s very rewarding to help people and still make a living.”
Messer said she has had no trouble finding clients. Many inquire through the Internet (www.carepatrol.com), and others are referred by hospitals and social workers, she said.
Finding the right facility to match the client’s location and price desires is usually not difficult, she said. The most difficult decision comes before the facility tours — deciding the time has arrived to move into an assisted-living home.
“There are occasions when the loved one is not quite ready,” Messer said. “We try to work with them gently to come to that point. It can take awhile, but that’s OK. It’s important that they are comfortable with their decision.”
As with any move, it can take time for clients to adjust, “but usually by the second or third follow-up visit, they have settled in nicely,” she said.