Long Island Business News

LI home care agencies wait for licenses

by Claude Solnik
Published: November 23, 2011

Don and Maureen Nickel in August opened BrightStar Care North Shore Nassau County, a home care and health care staffing firm in Syosset. And the company, one of nearly 250 BrightStar franchises nationwide, has been getting business providing staffing and companionship. But at least for now, those are the only services it can offer.

“We’ve got a few cases going,” said Don Nickel, the former vice president of operations for Weight Watchers International and Long Island’s first BrightStar franchisee. “We do companion care in the home and medical staffing.”

Many home-care businesses like BrightStar are engaged in a waiting game for licenses from the state that would let them expand beyond staffing and simple companionship. These companies require what’s known as a licensed care home service agency license to provide help with basic living activities, a staple of the home care market.

The state in November 2010 lifted a moratorium on these licenses, but is still going through a backlog of applications, leaving new companies at the end of the line waiting for the right to provide a range of services beyond companionship.

“To get a license for home health care to provide personal and skilled medical care in the home is very time-consuming. We don’t know how long it’s going to take,” Nickel said. “If we were to get a license, it would be in the personal care side. But we can’t do that right now. We’d like to understand New York state’s timelines and what can be done to move this along.”

The delays come in part as the state goes through a backlog it was left with when on Nov. 17, 2010 it sent letters to providers, notifying them “the moratorium on licensed home care services agencies has expired.” It would once again accept applications, along with a $2,000 fee.

But the New York State Association of Health Care Providers said although the state finally is approving new agencies, many remain in line.

At least 150 were on hold when the state resumed accepting applications, which are being reviewed after the initial group.

“It started out pretty slowly,” said Travis Wattie, a spokesman for the association. “There are still some clogs in the system, but we’ve seen some moving through.”

He said more agencies are being licensed, leading to new members for his group.

While this means some increased competition, it also means more choice for consumers. “It certainly means more providers out there delivering service,” Wattie said.

The state had imposed a moratorium due to a concern that new licenses could create a huge crop of new agencies, which could generate more administrative costs for the state, particularly through Medicare and Medicaid.

But Moore said BrightStar provides exclusively private-duty home care and staffing, and doesn’t accept Medicare payments, so licensing its franchises shouldn’t increase government bills for health care.

Nickel said the lack of a license holds back his firm’s growth in New York, at least for now.

“I don’t know how far the business will grow [without a license],” he said. “We have a few cases. I turned away many because I don’t have a license.”

Nickel pointed to another problem caused by the licensing delay: People are more likely to hire workers through sources unauthorized to provide care. “People are hiring people not eligible to work in this country,” he said. “They’re hiring unlicensed people. It’s kind of driven it underground.”

Moore expects to continue signing franchisees that initially provide staffing and basic services that can then offer additional services as licenses come through.

“How many of these will we open?” Moore said of Long Island. “There are 10 available territories in Nassau and Suffolk. That would probably mean four or five owners who open between one and three sites.”


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