Q&A with Jack and Claudine Halpern of My Elder Advocate
At age 65, former nursing home executive Jack Halpern has seen the horrors of America’s elder care structure first hand. After deciding to leave the system and dedicate his career to changing the status quo, he and his wife, Claudine, started My Elder Advocate, and are working to launch 100 franchised locations.
Working for clients on a case-by-case basis, and (crucially) having no ties to hospitals or nursing homes, My Elder Advocate is a fee-based system to help elders and their families to navigate the complex health care system and advocate for their rights, including preventing evictions and abuse. Jack is the company's CEO and Claudine is the COO.
Franchise Times: What led you both to start My Elder Advocate back in 2008?
Claudine Halpern: My background is in technology, finance and management consulting, so I come to senior care by working with Jack on his business over the course of the years. I joined My Elder Advocate full time about a year and a half ago. I have a friend who said to me that her husband had just been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, and I came home that night and said we can no longer wait. That was my pivot point in joining the business.
Jack Halpern: I began in nursing homes almost 42 years ago. I was a 24-year-old young man and here I was in a nursing home where the average age of the patients was 65 those days. It was a pretty weird experience. I started to meet the people and learn from their experiences, and became friends with a quadriplegic named Sam, who taught me a lot about how elders want to be treated. I decided at that point that this is what I was meant to do with my life.
FT: Jack, what did you learn from your experience inside the nursing home biz?
JH: People weren’t treated properly. They were receiving the health care that they needed, but it was an undignified situation. Many nursing homes were very corrupt. Every elder in America and in the world is entitled to safe, dignified and compassionate care. After working in nursing homes for many years, I decided to form my own company and work on the other side.
FT: How did you decide franchising was the way to have the largest impact?
JH: I was very reluctant. I didn’t think it would be a good model, but as we started to work with our franchise advisors and build the company, more and more it turns out to be a wonderful model. A lot of people are coming to us who have situations within their own familiar … and saying this is what we want to do.
FT: What’s fundamentally wrong with the American nursing home model?
JH: Paid caregivers are paid very low wages, and they do not receive the accolades that they should when they’re the most important people who are taking care of the elderly. We have a government reimbursement-based health care system where there is really not much room for caring.
FT: How can your company have a wider impact, beyond assisting individual clients?
JH: When we go into a nursing home and advocate for somebody and see a problem, we report that as a wider problem, so the more advocate and franchisees we have out there, the more change we can make for our clients and certainly for the rest of the elders—that’s the way to make change.
FT: Looking ahead to the coming wave of Baby Boomers, are you optimistic things will get better?
JH: It’s a very bad outlook. People in this country are very uneducated as to what’s going to happen to them when they reach this particular age. If we can educate people to plan ahead and to be aware of what the system is about, we can make a monumental change in the whole system and that’s the way we are addressing it.
FT: How do demographic trends support your business model?
CH: Today’s population of 85-year-olds exceeds five million. By 2050 that 85-year-old population will grow 449 percent. Today one out of three people are caregivers—29 percent of the population. Caregivers leave $522 billion on the table as income, so from an opportunity and franchise opportunity perspective, that $522 billion is up for grabs. The Baby Boomers are just starting to fall into the needy population. There are thousands of people who are pretty much in my situation, who worked in the corporate world for 30-35 years, decided they didn’t want to do this anymore and want to change the world.
FT: How fast do you expect to grow?
CH: We’re looking for five initial franchisees, be they groups of individuals. When those five businesses are up and running, we’ll bring in 10 more, get those 10 up and running and then open the floodgates. Within five years, we’re hoping to have 100 units in the United States up and running. We’ve also had inquiries from Asia, Europe and Canada.