Three years ago, I was a typical high-achieving New Yorker. I had worked hard to build the life I had: a great wife and family; the successful Wall Street career that I had always wanted; a large circle of friends; community involvement; and I was also a bit of a fitness junkie.
It was my mania about being fit that almost got me killed–and it also saved my life.
I was only three miles away from home when everything went wrong. Finishing up a 50-mile autumn bicycle ride, my friend and I were rounding a curve on a quiet road in northern New Jersey when we suddenly encountered an SUV barreling toward us.
The driver had fallen asleep at the wheel, taking out my friend first. The crash broke his hip and hurled him so far he nearly landed in a nearby creek. She hit me head on without braking.
By all accounts, I should have died from the massive trauma. Most people would have, but the doctors said my discipline about working out and staying active made my body strong enough to amazingly withstand a head-on collision on my bicycle.
Still, more than a dozen surgeries and three and a half years later, I can’t get out of bed and begin my day without help. I am a paraplegic and will never walk again.
When I first returned home after five months in the hospital and rehab, I couldn’t do anything on my own. The hospital set us up with a health care agency that provided caregivers and nurses covered by our insurance. After six weeks, despite the need for a lifetime of help, the benefits ran out.
I started asking around about finding a caregiver at less than the astounding $25-an-hour agency rate. I found out that not only did so many others need daily care–albeit many were much older than my 51 years–but they also preferred to hire a caregiver on their own. The problem was there was no good way to do that.
However, my entrepreneurial spirit is still intact. Because of my experiences, I developed my startup, LeanOnWe, a selective network of carefully vetted caregivers who are hired by and work directly for a family. An experienced staff is always willing to help–bypassing the middleman, and resulting in lower costs and easy management. All families calling LeanOnWe speak to staff members who either have trained caregivers, hired caregivers for their family, or received care from a caregiver.
It’s a model that benefits not only the recipients of care, but also the caregivers. When caregivers are employed by an agency charging between $22 and $25 an hour, they typically earn half that–barely above minimum wage. It isn’t that the agency is taking you for a ride, but rather the enormous expenses embedded in the agency system.
As baby boomers age, the demand for home care will be more acute, but what about the supply? What is the financial incentive for people to choose this line of work for low wages?
Christina Irving, a social worker and family consultant with the non-profit Family Caregiver Alliance, told the San Francisco Chronicle in April that as many as half of all families that hire caregivers for senior relatives do so informally–relying on either word of mouth or their own advertising, rather than an agency. Clearly, the agency system is broken, and we have found a better way for families to find the right caregiver.
I realized that if I could combine the key factors of higher pay for caregivers at a lower cost and more control for families, with the peace of mind an agency offers for backup, then LeanOnWe would address a national problem head on.
From where I sit in my wheelchair, I know that a thoroughly vetted network of experienced caregivers is a welcome option. At LeanOnWe, that means selected caregivers have undergone top-of-the-line FBI fingerprint background checks, and families needing care can review a full profile and professional video of each caregiver to help them hire someone who’s a good fit for training, skills, certifications, and experience. It is working remarkably well.
The feedback from the industry has been tremendous. People couldn’t believe that something designed in this way didn’t already exist. That hit home. More importantly, families have been thrilled with how easy LeanOnWe makes it for them to directly hire experienced caregivers who fit their needs. As an entrepreneur, it is scary to put my heart and wallet on the line for LeanOnWe, but the feedback confirms that my team and I are on to something.
We named our company LeanOnWe as an acknowledgement that one can lean on all of us when support at home is needed. We can be greeted by someone who personally understands the needs and anxieties of letting someone care for you, or a loved one.
In my own life, each morning I wake as my caregiver comes to my home, helps me out of bed, and gets me ready for the day–I lean on her, trust her, and push on.
Ron Gold started LeanOnWe after a 25-year career in international equity markets, working for both Lehman Brothers and Barclays. LeanOnWe is his way of making an important difference in the lives of people who need caregivers. He serves on the boards of several civic and nonprofit organizations.