BIG INTERVIEW: Ideal Carehome’s newly appointed Paul Farmer

Paul Farmer from Coppice Lodge 117 Coppice Road, Arnold, Nottingham

Newly appointed Ideal Carehomes managing director Paul Farmer sets out his vision for the business. 

Care Home Professional: Can you tell me about your background and how you joined Ideal Carehomes?

Paul Farmer: I have been in the care sector for 20 years. I previously worked for GVA – a healthcare surveyors consultancy – in the area of transactional feasibility and consultancy. I joined leading independent care home provider, St Philip’s Care (which was a former client of mine) in early 2014.

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I had previously had a longstanding relationship with their owner. St Philip’s operate nursing, residential and health homes in England and Scotland. It was a complicated business from that perspective, but challenging in a positive way. After being approached by Ideal, I spoke with them about what they wanted to achieve. The lessons I had learnt from St Philip’s were transferable to Ideal and I was attracted to its aspirations and what it was looking to achieve.

I was drawn to Ideal’s purpose built model. Our oldest property is about five and a half years old. It’s a great fabric to work from. I am passionate about developing businesses and ensuring they reach their potential. There’s a development opportunity for Ideal in terms of the number of homes.

We have 15 at the moment. There’s an aspiration to grow that number. That fitted with my aspirations. If you look at any business there’s a point at which you need to grow again to develop economies of scale to maximise performance. I prefer a smaller business of 15 to 30-40 homes as you can have an involvement with it in on a daily basis. It’s more difficult for MDs of businesses such as Four Seasons to dip into each part of the business on a regular basis because it just becomes too large.

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The homes are the lifeblood of the business. Every care home is its own entity. If you are a resident and you are looking to move a relative into a care home you don’t really look at it in terms of the branding, you look at its reputation.

It’s an emotive decision. You want to know you are placing a loved one in an environment where they will be well looked after. I’ve been through the emotional process of my loved ones going into care and understand what people go through. It’s really important that our care homes have that empathy towards people coming into the care environment.

In any sector you have to have a combination of systems and people. We have significantly invested here at Coppice Lodge since it opened about five years ago both by adding new facilities, such as the café in reception, but also in developing and rewarding the staff group to ensure we attract and retain the best staff. We need to make sure that the homes are not just a great place to live but also a great place to work. The messaging that we give the staff is positive.

The values are there, we just need to create the right structure and systems to support that. It’s a constant process of evolution. When I started in care you visited a care home and were wowed by a 10 sq metre room. There were no en suites.

What’s being offered today is a world away from that. You cannot afford to stand still. You have to always look to improve and change for the right reasons.

CHP: Being part of the LNT Group gives you a strong support structure.

PF: You have a range of experiences within the group (see table). I have learnt quite quickly that Ideal is a customer of the Group in the same way as other care provider customers.

CHP: How does the new development process work within LNT?

PF: The business has to find the sites. Once they have gone through their analysis of the site they will then talk to a number of their operator clients. LNT has always sense checked their site decisions by being sure Ideal Carehomes would be happy to operate, before we offer those sites to other operators. They can therefore be confident of the proposition to clients that the site offers a strong business case.

Of course, that will continue and sites that are not successfully sold to others will happily be bought by Ideal and join our portfolio, but now Ideal is actively growing our portfolio, it is fair to say that we will be more upfront in that buying process, if we are strategically interested in the location.

Prior to me joining we had discussed a couple of sites which have gone to other operators. The group has a longterm relationship with some existing
clients and it would be very short term to upset them. It’s an important balance which is struck fairly between LNT Care Developments’ and Ideal’s
objectives. LNT Care Developments is one of the leading specialist developers of care facilities and the interest they are receiving from operators of all
sizes is continuing to strengthen.

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The business has a very healthy pipeline of sites and in reality, Ideal will only proactively be taking a slim proportion of those annually. It will therefore be dependent on me to identity locations that will work within our expansion plans, and then engage LNT Care Developments to find sites in those areas, just as they do for others.

As with all site-finding, there’s no guarantee we will be getting any of those sites – the business proposition still has to add-up. LNT Care developments are looking at numerous locations at any one time because that’s where the marketplace is taking them and they will come back to
us and say we have a couple of sites that you can take on.

They are presenting opportunities to us as they would anybody else.

CHP: Are you generally looking to develop in the South?

PF: The financial modelling of a care business isn’t really supported by developing in an area that is funded by a majority of local authority clients. We are trying to identify locations where we will be primarily funded by the private market. For new homes we are looking at a model which will be predominantly privately funded. The majority of development within the sector is taking place south of Birmingham. That isn’t to say that we won’t be building homes in the parts of the country where we are already operating.

“For new homes we are looking at a model which will be predominantly privately funded.”

We want to make sure our staff are well trained to meet the needs of people who have dementia. I have always been passionate about developing people. The sector has ignored staff. I want to ensure that we are giving staff the best opportunity that they can have to develop their skills. I want to give more people the opportunity to have a career in care.
CHP: Where do you stand on private fee payers cross-subsidising LA fee payers?

PF: If you go back quite a few years LA and private fees were pretty similar. The LA picture is so mixed that in some areas there is little difference between private and LA fees and in other locations there’s a marked difference.

It would be folly to say that the private payer isn’t cross subsidising the LA payer in some of those locations. We are trying to work in partnership with
LAs to ensure that everybody is able to pay a fair price for care.

“We will be looking to ewuip our homes with medication, care planning and accoustic monitoring systems.”

You see where the income is insufficient to cover the cost of care, which impacts the quality of the environment and often leads to care starting to deteriorate.

The marketplace is shrinking. That shrinkage is much greater in some postcodes than others.

CHP: Do you pay the National Living Wage?

PF: Yes. We have just started looking at the gender pay gap. All staff have the opportunity to earn more than the National Living Wage. We are working on identifying the opportunities for people to develop their career. There’s plenty of examples in the industry of people who have
started working in the kitchen as an assistant who are now regional directors.

We need to champion those people. There are more qualifications now for a school leaver to take advantage of. I am keen to take apprenticeship opportunities forward. The Apprentice Levy is still in its formative stages and it’s only now that training providers are getting to grips with what they can do.

CHP: How easy is it for you to recruit new people?

PF: The sector has never found it easy to recruit. Clearly it’s more difficult to recruit people in a full employment climate. Overall, we are still getting plenty of good applications. Some areas are more challenging than others.

Our agency use is under control at a fairly low level. The care sector has suffered from high staff turnover. If you don’t engage with your staff and allow
them to go on a journey with you. you will suffer from high turnover. We encourage full staff engagement through newsletters, questionnaires and the
soft benefits that we can offer. We have a largely steadfast group of staff.

CHP: Looking again at Ideal from a group perspective you have support in terms of access to new technology.

PF: Some of the systems within the existing structure are fantastic. They are constantly evolving. The potential for telecare can be frightening because we need people to provide care. Loneliness is one of the main issues for people in care. Care homes provide great communities.

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You have to do everything you can to support good quality care. Technology is going to play a very important part in the sector.

We are looking at different options. CoolCare is in all of our homes and will be in all of them going forward. It works well as a support system to the homes.

There are things that we will want to do, like e-medication, that don’t fit with what CoolCare provides so we will be exploring those areas.

WiFi is standard in our new builds. We are just going through all of the older homes now making sure we have 100% coverage. We will have rectified any black spots in the homes over the next three to four months which will help with the adoption of new technological advancements in the ‘Internet of things’.

We will be looking to equip our homes with medication, care planning and acoustic monitoring systems. Each new home that we open is a flagship from a build, use, layout and room size perspective. All the new LNT homes that Ideal operates have ground source heat pumps to naturally source
hot water and comfort-cooling.

We are doing a lot from an environmental and energy efficiency perspective.

CHP: What are you health & wellbeing priorities?

PF: Activities and food and nutrition are the areas we are focused on.

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