It’s a conversation that no one ever looks forward to. The decision to transition the care of a loved one into the hands of someone outside their family is one that requires painful conversations, difficult realizations, and—for the loved one in question—the relinquishment of a life defined by self-reliance.
Senior citizens in the United States are living longer and longer lives, and elder care is becoming an ever more essential and critical concern. Unfortunately, the topic is still a taboo to many people.
Cesar Ruiz, however, is intimately familiar with conversations about elder care, and has them on a regular basis. The founder, president, and CEO of Golden Years Home Care was an active caretaker for both his grandmother and his father, both of whom suffered strokes in their later years.
“I remember my mother having to tend to my grandmother like she was an infant,” Ruiz says. “I watched my father, the patriarch of our family—who worked three jobs to put us through school—having to suffer through this. He was able to regain his strength, and I was able to see that man again, who was able to get himself out of bed, pull himself into his chair, and wheel himself to the library. I hope that same willpower is now with me.”
While caring for Ruiz’s father and grandmother, Ruiz’s family struggled with the fact that the home care for their family members wasn’t of the same quality with which they themselves tended to their loved ones. Ruiz started compiling a business plan, which wouldn’t manifest for another decade, to address what he saw as a desperately needed transformation for elder care. The philosophy of that business would be simple: “All of my clients are my mother and my father,” Ruiz says. “That is something I take very, very seriously.”
In just five years of operation, Golden Years Home Care Services has earned the coveted Entrepreneur of the Year award for 2020 from Business West, a business staple of western Massachusetts, where Ruiz and his family grew up. Its client list, which began with just ten, has ballooned to more than five hundred. These past few years have been a whirlwind of progress for both Ruiz and Golden Years, all built on the philosophy of service that Ruiz emphasizes for his clients and employees alike.
Compassion, Inside and Out
Ruiz is incredibly proud of the care providers he works with every day. “I can think of no better role than the service of one person caring for another human being,” the CEO explains. “Anyone who thinks this is an easy job has no idea what this is all about. It takes patience. It takes understanding. It takes love and compassion.”
Unfortunately, Ruiz says, those same caregivers are not often taken care of by their employers. The low pay and lack of benefits for caregivers is a fairly open secret in the healthcare industry, but Ruiz is confronting that reality head-on at Golden Years. “I want to elevate the status of this role to what our people deserve,” he says. “Our caregivers should never feel less than any other profession. To me, they are up there with the best of them.”
In an effort to recruit the best talent available, Golden Years started paying a $15 minimum wage—far before that discussion was taken up by Congress—and initiated an educational program that helps employees attain their home health aide certification. Another of its programs aims to help active seniors and veterans learn to provide care as well. “We want to work smart,” Ruiz says. “Education has always been an important part of my life, and bettering the lives of the people that work here is a priority for me.”
Golden Years offers life insurance to all employees and is in the process of creating a 401(k) program. Ruiz says it’s the first life insurance policy many of his employees have ever been able to partake of, and that has motivated him to see how else he can be of service.
A Special Breed
Because so many caregivers on the Golden Years staff are single mothers, the CEO says providing outreach and resources for counseling, financial planning, daycare, and even housing are essential for him to feel like he is providing the support that his staff need to in turn provide the necessary care and compassion for their clients. “These are areas I never expected to be delving into,” Ruiz admits. “But our people are a special breed that we think deserve this additional support.”
The company’s benefits, Ruiz says, are part of the transformation the CEO wants to see in the larger caregiving space. “Part of what we offer our employees is obviously about attracting talent,” Ruiz says. “But this is an industry known for high turnover, and I refuse to be part of a system that recycles bad behavior.”
Within the company, Ruiz also works to create a healthy working culture. Employees at Golden Years have more than likely communicated with the company founder directly. “I’m hands-on because I never want to be far removed from the real work that we do,” Ruiz explains. “At the beginning, I was HR; I was payroll. And even though I now have the luxury to do more strategic planning, it’s still important for me to see our clients and their caregivers.”
That may be an increasingly tough goal to achieve, given the continued expansion of Golden Years into behavioral health. For Ruiz, the company’s growth means more employees to meet, more caregivers to visit, and more planning. But however large and complex the company becomes in future, Ruiz emphasizes, it will stay true to one simple aim: to care for those who need it, with the dignity and compassion one would want for their own family.
A Known Quantity
Part of the success of Golden Years lies in Cesar Ruiz’s long history with his community. He was the first Latino (as well as the youngest person) to be elected to the Springfield School Committee in 1980. Even after Ruiz left his home state to live in Florida, his legacy remained—as he saw upon his return. “When I walked into Baystate Medical Center to explain our mission, they knew me,” Ruiz says. “Those early years helped define what would become my future.”
To Those Who Wait
For those who have seen the fast success of Golden Years, Cesar Ruiz may seem like an overnight success. But his planned transformation of home care took time. Ruiz focused on his career in finance for thirty years, and even after he drew up the plans for the initial Golden Years model, it took ten years to put it in action.