LARGO — Instead of its usual holiday party last December, Bayshore Home Care held an '80s gala to celebrate its founding in 1986. As big-haired employees in jeans and rock-concert shirts streamed into the Hilton Carillon Park, other hotel guests took notice.
"Since it was right before Christmas, most people were in suits so we got a lot of looks," says Todd Atkinson, who with sister Suzanne Johnson owns the home health care agency.
The '80s bash not only was "great fun," Johnson says, it fostered the kind of team spirit that helps Bayshore retain skilled, caring employees in an industry where that can often be a challenge. The camaraderie also helped make Bayshore one of the Tampa Bay Times Top Workplaces this year, the seventh consecutive year it has earned the honor.
In all, 13 health-care related companies were among the Top Workplaces — the most in any single category.
"Health care is a big part of (the nation's) GDP," Atkinson notes.
When their mother, Dianne, started Bayshore 31 years ago, the concept of "aging in place" — living at home as long as possible — was just starting to take hold. At that time there were only a few other private-duty agencies in Pinellas County. Now there are dozens.
Medicare generally doesn't cover home health-aide services, so clients either pay the $20 hourly cost out of pocket or rely on long-term care insurance. But demand for in-home services is such that Bayshore has grown to five offices in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties. In a typical week, 225 employees are out helping clients dress, shower, take their medicine or fix their meals, offering companionship in the process.
"We strive to have a culture of putting clients first," Johnson says, adding that Bayshore looks for employees with "a heart for care. Some of the skills can be taught, but the heart has to be in the right place.''
To help recruit that type of employee, Bayshore offers attractive benefits including health insurance, paid time off and a 401(k) retirement plan. To keep employees, it strives to build esprit de corps among workers who don't often see each other except when they come in to pick up their paychecks.
"We do appreciation days," Johnson says. "We have Popsicles in the summer and pizza parties in the office."
While Atkinson handles the finances, Johnson is in charge of business development and clinical operations. "Each year we try to have a theme," she says. "This year, it's 'We're part of one team.' "
Employees received baseball-style jerseys and stress-relieving squeeze toys in the shape of a ball player. Marketing materials include fliers that tell potential clients: "Your team just got bigger — make the hand-off to our team of senior care professionals."
On the Bayshore roster are five full-time registered nurses. They make announced and unannounced visits to employees in the field, both to see how they are doing and to give advice.
"That sets us apart," Atkinson says of the nursing supervisors. "The state doesn't direct that we have as many nurses as we do."
Lori Deschenes, who's been with Bayshore for four years, likes the fact that supervisors can be readily reached.
"Once this office is closed you can call and still get someone," she says. "If you need anything after hours, they are available to answer questions. You always have somebody to go to; you don't ever feel like you're alone out there."
Currently, Deschenes is working days, which gives her time in the evenings to be with her school-aged daughter and 10-week-old foster baby. She likes the variety of clients, "their amazing stories" and also the benefits of working for a small, family-owned company.
"Everybody is friendly, everybody works real well together," Deschenes says. (She pronounced the '80s bash a "really good time." Her own throwback to the decade included a denim skirt, pink top and "lots of hair spray.")
Pam Atkinson has been with Bayshore since it started 31 years ago. Today, she is in charge of intake, providing information about the company's services and coordinating with employees who meet with clients or their families.
Over the past three decades, she has enjoyed helping the company grow and evolve.
"You have to look outside the box and be one step ahead because other agencies are competing for the business," she says. "We always see what we can do to make ourselves better."
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate