October 19, 2008 in Business

Liberty Lake company uses cars to help attract, retain employees

Program provides an edge in competitive industry
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Brian Plonka photo

Julie Schneider makes a call in the Nissan Rogue provided to her by Family Home Care.
(Full-size photo)

Family Home Care

Web: Familyhomecare.org

Workers: 300

Clients: About 1,700 homes in North Idaho and Eastern Washington

Mike Nowling, president of Liberty Lake-based Family Home Care and Hospice, decided a new car might shake things up and save some money for his business.

More correctly, he decided it would take 20 new cars.

In August, Nowling leased 20 new Nissan Rogues and handed the keys to the busiest roaming caregivers working for his company. The caregivers, who range from nurses and physical therapists to dietitians and social workers, use the cars for company travel as well as personal driving.

Family Home Care pays Enterprise Fleet Services $500 a month per vehicle. In turn, each traveling home-care worker pays $250 a month to Family Home Care, no matter how many miles he or she drives.

Family Home care also pays for all maintenance, insurance and gas costs.

The only restriction: Workers can’t drive the car more than 240 miles from home. That’s basically a “don’t drive to Seattle” rule, explained Nowling, who in 2001 bought the company from Empire Health.

Nowling provided 18 cars to the top 18 traveling care providers. The two other Rogues are used as backups when needed.

Enterprise made the offer to Nowling earlier this year. The vehicle company makes similar offers to large and midsized companies across the country, said company spokeswoman Laura Walter.

The Enterprise plan has improved company morale, and Nowling hopes it helps keep workers at Family Home Care instead of looking around for other jobs in the area.

“This is a competitive business,” Nowling said. Many other companies in this area offer both types of service his firm does — the skilled care and nursing that is often covered by insurance or Medicare; or the less costly range of home aid such as housekeeping, meal preparation and companion care.

Nowling considered the Enterprise offer for several months before signing the deal, which requires Family Home Care to maintain a two-year agreement for the fleet.

Initially, Nowling estimated the vehicles would save more than $12,000 a year on fuel costs based on current per mile reimbursement rates and gas priced above $4 per gallon.

Now, Nowling said it’s too soon to know if it will save that much.

But it’s certainly made an impression both inside and outside his company, he said.

“This is a small business town,” Nowling said. “People in other companies know what’s going on in this business and have heard about it.”

Grabbing the wheel of a new car definitely appealed to Julie Schneider, a 31-year-old occupational therapist who took a job this past year with Family Home Care, moving from Kansas with her family.

Schneider said driving the Rogue has allowed her to put her 1999 Toyota Camry in storage and cancel its insurance. Even though it costs her $250 a month, she and other Family Home Care workers say they’ve paid more than that amount in recent months for their personal travel.

Since getting one of the SUVs, Schneider has driven well over 3,200 miles, making seven or eight stops a day, including trips across Whitman County once a week.

“I love it. We’re on the highway a lot or on backroads and places with steep hills. I feel safer in a small-size SUV than in my Camry,” Schneider said.

In addition to its Liberty Lake office, Family Home Care has offices in Coeur d’Alene and Colfax. In that 100-mile radius, the company provides services to about 1,700 homes, according to Nowling.

Another Family Home Care driver, Terri Wagar of Cheney, said she drives about 2,000 miles a month, mostly in Whitman County. A dietitian, Wagar said the Rogue has made driving easier.

“It makes good mileage for an all-wheel-drive vehicle. And now I don’t have to worry about things like, ‘When do I go out and replace a windshield wiper?’ That’s something the company just takes care of.”

Another home-care company, Spokane’s Interim Health Care, also was offered a similar leasing deal for its drivers. Company president Rick Morris however looked at the costs involved and declined.

“The total costs didn’t pencil out after we looked at it,” said Morris. Unlike Family Home Care, Interim does not provide Medicare-approved services and doesn’t have the same scale of business as Nowling does, Morris said.

This summer Morris met an Interim manager who runs a similar company in Texas. He told Morris that after adding the Enterprise fleet option, his company no longer had difficulty recruiting skilled workers. “He said he now has a waiting list of people,” Morris said.

Nowling said he’ll give some thought to expanding the number of vehicles in the fleet lease program in six to 12 months.

Even without much publicity about the car program, Nowling said he’s already seen some major benefits.

“We’re already seen applications going up. Already we see that as a payoff for this program.”

Contact staff writer Tom Sowa at (509) 459-5492 or at toms@spokesman.com.


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