THE BIG INTERVIEW: Dr Chai Patel, CEO of HC-One

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HC-One chairman and CEO Dr Chai Patel explains how his turnaround formula has improved care quality and helped conserve and transform valuable care assets.

During a glittering career in the care sector over the past 30 years, Dr Chai Patel has developed an enviable reputation for turning around failing businesses and care assets.

Chai set up Court Cavendish in 1988, which grew through a series of acquisitions to become Care First, which was eventually bought by Bupa after he left.

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At Court Cavendish, Chai developed the core values –  integrity, partnership and accountability – that have guided him ever since.

Chai had his first taste of the turnaround of an organisation with financial or quality problems when he bought healthcare services provider Westminster Health Care.

He went on to acquire mental health services provider Priory which he sold off in 2005 after building it up into a substantial organisation specialising in brain injury and mental health education for children with autism and learning disabilities.

Major HC-One acquisitions
Date Business Size
2011 Southern Cross 200 homes from landlord NHP
2015 Meridian 30 homes
2017 Helen McArdle 20 homes

 

By 2006-07, Chai had begun to identify a number of healthcare services that had built up a significant amount of debt, which led to the start-up of his turnaround service under the same name of Court Cavendish.

“We targeted organisations where there were a lot of financial issues not because the quality of service was bad but because the capital structure was wrong,” Chai said.

The first company Chai and his team came across was Care Management Group in 2008.

Over the next three or four years Chai turned the business around completely to become what is now, the best CQC rated learning disability group in the UK.

“That’s something which are very, very proud of,” Chai commented.

It was not long after this that Southern Cross ran into difficulties and Chai and his team were asked to come in and advise one of the landlords, NHP, on 200 of its homes.

“We went to see them and looked at the services,” Chai explained.

“Our first aim was to try and keep Southern Cross together but the landlords had decided they were going to break up the group.

“NHP was so big no other company in the UK wanted to take them over so we had to create a brand new operating company and that’s how HC-One came about.”

HC-One was founded around the vision and values of providing the kindest care in the UK.

“HC stands for ‘healthcare’ and ‘One’ is about the customer being the one that matters whether it is the resident or the relative,” Chai said.

“The ‘one’ is not about being number one. It is about you being the one that matters so the business was defined by the connection between the individual and the service provider.

“We created three key goals: we wanted to give the best care we could; have the best working environment; and give the best return for our investors.”

HC-One is now celebrating its fifth year having, along the way, created the best compliance record among the corporate care providers.

Over £100m has been invested in the last five years in improving HC-One’s infrastructure and its care environment for residents.

“We feel we are significantly down the line, although this work is never going to be completed,” Chai said.

“We are happy with the majority of homes we inherited from Southern Cross and we will continue to build strong leadership into our homes and recruit and maintain staff who can provide the kindest care.

“We have a number of homes where there’s a lot of competition around and some areas where the LA rates are very low so the sector’s quite stretched.

“The second part of our journey is bringing our care homes into the digital age. We are just about to launch WiFi across all our homes so that we can bring much more bespoke entertainment to our residents and offer them greater communication with their relatives through Skype and other face time software so that we can create a much more lively real time environment for them.

“In terms of the care delivery we can start bringing in e-medication and e-care plans so there is continuity of care. We have trials with e-care and e-meds providers at the moment. It will revolutionise care. We will be able to do so much more to provide better, bespoke, real time care.”

With HC-One’s turnaround well advanced, Chai has begun the next phase of the group’s development, which entails turning it into a “regionally based but national provider”.

“This sounds like a contradiction but it isn’t,” Chai explains.

“We have clusters of homes in various regions but we want to be across the whole country. The idea is to build up a brand that allows people to have the peace of mind to know that their loved one is in a safe and kind place. If we do that we’ll be the first choice in our communities, not just for the residents but also for our staff and we can attract the best people.”

Chai’s striving for regionally based excellence led to this year’s acquisition of north-east care home provider Helen McArdle.

With its 19 existing homes, as well as one under construction, Helen McArdle has developed a reputation for the highest standard of care, boasting four CQC rated ‘outstanding’ homes, second only to WCS Care with five.

“Helen McArdle has many of the characteristics we like and follows us acquiring Meridian Healthcare a couple of years ago which was a similarly sized, family run regional acquisition with around 30 homes,” Chai told us.

“The acquisition works because we have a significant presence in the north east. They are some of the best quality homes in the country. I’ve just finished a visit to all the homes and they are superb; not just the physical environment but very good quality care.”

The Helen McArdle homes have already been rebranded HC-One, so how does Chai incorporate his regional acquisitions into the group’s overarching identity?

“We build on the values we find,” Chai commented.

“If the values are great then we just need to ensure that we keep them and we learn from them and we bring them across to the rest of the group. If they are not the values we aspire to then we turn them around over a period of time. We may have to change the leadership or some of the staff and have to make investments if the buildings are not well kept.

“What we bring to a regional operator is the stability of a national organisation. We provide the leaders of those organisations an opportunity for personal growth and personal development.

“We bring the ability to bring innovation and put in innovation quite quickly because of our scale and capital. We can take the chances and look at what’s out there and what’s working.

“What we provide is a backbone of learning and development which our size allows us. It brings an ability to create a sustainable presence which people across the country can start to recognise.”

Chai’s ultimate goal is to build HC-One into one of four or five national care home providers which become household names synonymous with good quality care.

“If the care sector can create four or five brands that are like the best retailers such as M&S or Morrisons or Waitrose, people will be able to know they can rely on a certain level of quality, which is available to everybody,” Chai said.

“Brands are all about trust; when you can’t think of what you can do, you can go for the brand.

“I can’t think of a decision in your life that is more difficult or more emotional then when you have to choose a home for your mum or your wife or your father. If you could have a set of brands that you know would be safe then I think we could take away a lot of the suffering and the pain and decision making those choices.”

Further reading:
HC-One in talks over £450m Bupa care home deal
HC-One appoints new CEO

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