When she hired her first employees in 1990, Patrice Swift promised she would never make them choose between their job and their family.
“I’m a working mom, too. And I’ve been put in that position,” Swift says. “I didn’t want to have a company that would do that.”
Today, Swift Transcriptions employs 65 people, most of them working mothers, who work out of the company’s offices at the corner of Ruby and Indiana. Earlier this year, an award at the 1996 Northwest Work/Family Conference provides testimony that Swift has kept her promise.
The conference - sponsored by the Association of Washington Business, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services and the Washington State Department of Community Trade and Economic Development - recognizes those companies “creating better business through work-family initiatives.”
Spokane’s Swift Transcriptions was awarded top honors among small private firms.
“In our day and age, people define family in all kinds of ways,” says Swift, “so it’s a question of how you gracefully integrate your life and your work and your other interests. We are proud of this award because we try very hard to create an environment that allows our employees to do that.”
Family considerations shaped the path that brought Ned and Patrice Smith to their roles in running a highly-successful medical transcription company.
The native Northwesterners started their careers in Los Angeles. Ned was an administrative analyst with UCLA, and Patrice was managing a psychiatric practice.
“But I didn’t want to go back into the office after I had our last child,” Patrice recalls, “so they trained me in medical transcription and let me work for them from my home.”
Over time, her clientele grew and Ned became involved in the home-based business as well.
But the couple set a goal of returning to Spokane by 1990, the year their oldest child would enter junior high school.
“But by that time the business had grown to the point that we both hated to just walk away from it,” Patrice says.
They convinced several clients to continue to let them do the medical transcription work long distance. They moved to Spokane, bought a home and set up an office.
Almost as an afterthought, Patrice Swift says, they took out an ad in the Yellow Pages.
“Immediately, we started getting calls from doctors and managers asking us if we could do their work,” Swift says.
At first she said no, because the business was geared to serve their Los Angeles clients. But when it became clear there was no other medical transcription service in Spokane, they began to rethink that idea.
Medical transcriptionists take a doctor’s dictated notes following a patient examination or medical procedure and provide a written record for medical files. Swift says the task requires a good understanding of both medical procedures and medical terms.
The Swifts hired an employee and embarked on a goal to capture all the Spokane transcription work that was being sent to out-of-state companies. By 1994, they had 40 employees.
Company revenues grew by 48 percent during the last 12 months. In the previous 12 months before that, growth was 35 percent. As spectacular as that growth has been, Swift points out that meeting their goal of doing all the Spokane-area medical transcription work would probably triple the present size of the company.
The Swifts’ second goal was to be the employer of choice for the best medical transcriptionists.
“All we could offer was a competitive wage and a health care plan,” Patrice Swift says. “But we promised our employees that as we grew, we would build as a team.”
The Swifts and their employees designed time-off plans and benefits tailored to working mothers. A child-care resources service helps employees find the right child-care situations. The company also provides sick child-care facilities.
Early on, when flu season arrived, the liberal time off plan created a prolonged 30-percent absence as mothers stayed home with children. That threatened the company’s ability to meet its contracts, so the Swifts turned scheduling over to the employees.
The employees came up with a flexible scheduling program that “cut our absenteeism to hardly anything,” she says. “Ned and I really learned an important lesson there, which was, if you give your employees the information they need to make the choices, they’ll make the right choices.”
The company’s future is bright. Swift says growth is limited by the availability of qualified transcriptionists, and choice.
“This company could employ several hundred people in five years, or it may not be any bigger,” Swift says. “Either way, it’s OK as long as we are providing quality service to our clients and a workplace our employees are happy to be in.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo