Bigger Company With Higher Purpose
● By Robert Frey
LHC Group’s Hometown Roots GrowBy Patrice Doucet
Over two decades ago, what began as one nurse going into the homes of a handful of patients in a rural Louisiana town has evolved into the second largest in-home healthcare provider in the country, since the April 1 merger of Almost Family, Inc. with Lafayette-based LHC Group, Inc.
Both companies are well-known and respected national providers of health care services to patients primarily within the comfort and privacy of their home or place of residence. They have built stellar reputations in providing home health, hospice, rehab and personal care services, paid for by Medicare and some insurers.
This merger is significant, even by health care industry standards. With LHC as the surviving entity, the deal expands the company’s geographic service territory to 37 states, covering 60 percent of the U.S. population of those 65 years and older.
Founded by Keith and Ginger Myers, LHC Group initially made its reputation by strategically focusing on taking over home health operations for hospitals. “There aren’t many organizations that do this,” says Johnny Indest, former President and Chief Operating Officer of LHC Group, and current board member. In doing so, they were able to reduce patients’ hospital stays and assure that discharged patients were adequately cared for so that they weren’t readmitted. As the demand for their services grew, LHC added long-term care facilities and their own free-standing home health agencies, which to date total over 800 facilities.
With a proven track record of success, their client list includes high-profile hospitals and hospital systems such as Ochsner, Christus Health System, The University of Tennessee In Knoxville, Baptist Health in Memphis and LifePoint in Brentwood.
Last September, LHC reported revenue in excess of $2 billion.
Since the merger, the company has gone from 15,000 to 30,000 employees delivering care.
With little overlap of previous territory coverage between the two companies, LHC is in even stronger a position to partner with hospitals and hospital systems, like Tennessee Community Health Systems which was acquired post-merger. “We are getting more calls from hospitals as word spreads of our success,” Indest says. Another edge: Almost Family brings licenses to new areas for LHC, namely Florida, with its high geriatric population that drives the home health business.
Based in Louisville, KY, Almost Family also adds seasoned experience in patient personal care, helping with patient errands, grooming and the like, as well as innovative ways in developing home care. For that reason, LHC will maintain a small presence in Louisville.
LHC’s growth has stemmed from a desire to help more people; that was the Myers’ goal from the start. Keith, Ginger and a couple of home health aides started a home health agency in the rural community of Palmetto in 1994.
Ginger, co-founder and the company’s “first nurse,” had four patients who didn’t have access to the care they needed and faced being placed in nursing homes. It was Ginger’s idea to provide that care in their homes, checking on them regularly before going to work. Indest remembers Harold Taylor, the mayor of Palmetto at the time, suggesting getting a license and making it a formal service.
When LHC first started partnering with hospitals they were small rural hospitals in Louisiana. “We still consider it a huge honor to carry the brand of the local hospitals,” says Keith Myers, Chairman and CEO. Opelousas General Hospital was the first joint venture with four locations providing home health and hospice. Indest, who joined the company in ’98, says as they continued to grow, more hospitals became interested in what they offered.
When the company went public on NASDQ in 2005, the story goes that New Yorkers asked Indest how he ran such a large business. His answer was, “I treat employees with dignity and respect so that they’ll turn around and treat patients the same way.”
In fact, Myers says this simple philosophy forms the basis of the company’s culture – their “secret sauce” as Myers calls it - going back to the day his wife visited their first patient.
It’s company-wide knowledge that any employee can contact Keith Myers at any time of the day. Ginger and Keith meet all new leaders each month during a three-day orientation where the LHC culture is instilled with discussions about commitment to customers, a sense of community and working together for a common goal. Small town values extend so far as to referring to the main office on Hugh Wallis Road as the “home” office, rather the headquarters or corporate office. “We try to keep things as ‘uncorporate’ as possible,” smiles Indest.
That said, LHC has placed great emphasis on a diversified board of directors that brings a high level of expertise to company decisions.
While many businesses use sales numbers and bottom-line figures to gauge their successes, the heart of LHC’s story is their commitment to patients, branded in their mission statement: “It’s all about helping people.”
Myers is still moved when saying that LHC began with the belief that “we are all equally important” and has grown from an obligation to care for the generations who came before us. Ginger says she is most proud of how many people the LHC Group “can reach out to and really make a difference.”
LHC Group began more out of compassion than to make big money – and yet, here it stands today leading its industry.