Questions and Answers Chris Pankratz from the Masters in Home Care

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Chris Pankratz sees himself primarily as the Director of Support for Masters In Home Care. And given that he’s CEO of a company that provides home health care to some 800 patients in Connecticut, it’s a role he takes as seriously as the nurses in the field who provide that care. .

Pankratz is the top winner for leadership among midsize CEOs in Hearst Connecticut Media’s Top Workplaces competition for 2022, based on employee survey responses from Top Partner Energage. Hearst workplaces.

Pankratz, 46, grew up west of Cleveland in Sheffield Lake, Ohio, his mother was a nurse and his father a long-distance trucker and Vietnam veteran. With an early gift for music, he studied piano and organ at Oberlin College and then at Yale University at the master’s level.

Remaining in Connecticut, pursues a career in information systems consulting. Almost 20 years ago, he became CIO for a home care company and then launched Masters In Home Care with a few partners.

Masters In Home Care is approaching its 10th year of operation, providing residential healthcare services, including dementia management from offices in Rocky Hill and Hamden. Pankratz shared his company’s experience since the COVID-19 pandemic. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

What has been the impact of the pandemic on Masters In Home Care, given its home healthcare mission?

Because we go into people’s homes, whether it’s a residence hall or an assisted living facility or another community, a lot of those places were in the same boat. They started saying, we don’t want anyone in the building. So now all of a sudden some of our services—which are medically necessary services for these people to maintain their quality of life—have been deemed ancillary.

We had to be very creative about how we keep people busy with slowing down work. How do we keep people safe and make sure the families and institutions we work with feel comfortable that we come to their homes? Significant challenges, and by far the most important being to face the unknown.

How did you deal with employee reluctance to get vaccinated?

I personally had conversations with employees who did not want to be vaccinated, who felt very strongly about it. These conversations were difficult, because it’s very contrary to how I feel, and what I feel was very contrary to the person I was having the conversation with. We have come up with other measures to keep this person safe, such as always wearing an N95 mask and having weekly tests.

We are talking about a very small number of people. I think we were very lucky in that regard, even when I spoke with [The Connecticut Association for Healthcare at Home] on their knowledge of vaccination rates among other agencies, and they said a lot of agencies were struggling because nurses didn’t want to get vaccinated. I found that almost amazing.

I can’t say what their underlying rationale is for themselves, or their underlying fear of a vaccine. I think these are partly personal stories – some people can really have an allergic reaction to a vaccine, which makes them hesitant. I am not a licensed physician or clinician. This is beyond what I can advise them. But we can at least discuss our alternatives to protect them and protect our patients.

What personal traits have helped you manage Masters In Home Care during the crisis?

There are obviously correlations with math and musical acumen. An organ score — you read three lines, you play with your hands and your feet. The ability to look at that and immediately translate it – there must be something in my brain that makes it work.

You can also relate it to reading a score in terms of, what comes next? What’s my best guess, not knowing until I turn this page, where should I be willing to go next?

Just the ability to make a decision and stay nimble about things, because we don’t know. And I think in general, for Masters In Home Care, that’s one of the things that makes us successful as an organization. We are able to shift gears.

Given insurers’ cost pressures on providers, combined with federal and state policies and headline inflation, how have you maintained employee compensation and morale?

We’ve always been very competitive on compensation, because we had to.

Every year we spend a lot of time re-evaluating our insurance offerings and staying competitive. The state just approved a double-digit increase in insurance rates, so we tried to absorb as much of the increase as we could afford by contributing more from the corporate side.

We instituted guaranteed 401(k) matching this year. We’re always looking at what we can give back—to the extent that we can afford to—to everyone who helped build and sustain the business.

We focused on side things. We do monthly promotion, like refund of [amusement] parks. We’ll be looking at different things to keep people engaged. It is only recently that we resumed meetings, approximately every two weeks, with smaller groups. When you’re not face to face with people, it creates a real challenge to keep them engaged. We just had our very first summer party, where we let people vote on the idea. We took them to [Arrigoni Winery]. People loved it.

We’re obviously highly regulated — most of our costs come from public sources like Medicare, so we have to make do with what we have. We can’t just raise our rates. In a state like Connecticut, it’s very difficult.

What was your experience in 2022 with retaining and hiring employees?

Whether you are a hospital, home care center, doctor’s office or clinic, we all face the same problem. This is partly because there is not enough labor pool. Some of these are the long-term result of COVID, like burnout. We were lucky that we didn’t have many starts for that reason, but we did have a few. Even before COVID, we had nurses who decided that for them a structured hospital shift was best.

Home health offers extreme flexibility. It lets you do other things during the day – drop off the kids, whatever. Your day is kind of in your control because you can call the patient and change the schedule a bit if that suits everyone.

We knew this nursing shortage was predicted years ago, but we never had a hiring problem until last year. So we tried to do what we could to retain the people we had, to make sure people remembered why they came to Masters In Home Care to work for us and why they want to stay with Masters.

For me, I think there’s a real satisfaction in being able to make a living doing something that provides a public good to our community. Home health is exactly that.

[email protected]; @casoulman

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