Ep:20: 23-Year Old Goes From Caregiver to Branch Director in 3 Years with Home Helpers
Dakota Aitken, now Branch Director at Home Helpers in Cour d'Alene, Idaho first started as a caregiver to make some extra cash before and during his time at the University. He quickly developed compassion and a love for the industry, which led him to his current role – here's his story.
Miriam Allred (00:07):
Hey, this is Miriam Allred and you’re listening to Home Care Pulse’s Vision | The Care Leaders’ Podcast. The show where I chat with home care leaders about relevant topics, providers need to hear. My guest today is Dakota Aitken, a Branch Director for Home Helpers in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Welcome to the show. It’s our pleasure to have you. You’re a good friend and past employee of Home Care Pulse, but it’s an absolute pleasure to have you on the show. So welcome.
Dakota Aitken (00:35):
I’m very excited. Thanks for the opportunity. Very blessed.
Miriam Allred (00:38):
Absolutely. So today’s episode, we are going to tell your story. I’m going to kind of just lead you through this conversation, but I want you to talk about your journey. So just kind of outlining the show today. You were originally a caregiver for two Home Helpers. Then you actually worked as a Research Associate here at Home Care Pulse. And now you are currently a Branch Director for Home Helpers in Northern Idaho based in Coeur d’Alene. So let’s talk about your journey as a caregiver. Walk me through when you were a caregiver, why you applied to be a caregiver, you know, and who you were working for. Talk to me about that.
Dakota Aitken (01:14):
Absolutely. So I’m going to start a little bit before that. So when I was serving a mission for my church, I was contemplating what career path I wanted to go to when I got back and go to college. And I decided after meeting several people who were running hospitals, very large hospitals that I wanted to go into healthcare administration. I found out that it would, it would be provide a great work-life balance as well as, as well as a good compensation for, for the hard work and opportunities to travel and to serve. And, and in general, you’d be doing good for the community. It’s not just a a pay job you’re working hard and improving lives around you. So I was very excited about that. Before my mission, I thought I was going to be a pharmacist and I ended up accepting a scholarship to Southern Utah university before my mission, assuming that I would go to pharmacy school down there.
Dakota Aitken (02:02):
I got home from my mission and I signed up to do summer sales in Texas, went there for like two weeks and it was just a bad experience. I’ve done sales before, so it’s not like I was just not cut out for it, but the team got themselves in some trouble and I was dipping out as soon as possible. And I had about a month left before I went to move to Rexburg for college. So I was looking anywhere that would hire me for a month, just for some, some hours. And one of my dad’s neighbors owned the home helpers there in the Nampa area. And he me and him went golfing and he offered to give me some graveyard shifts just to get some cash for college. And he offered me to be able to sleep on shift.
Dakota Aitken (02:43):
And all I would have to do is wake up at least once an hour and make sure the guy was still doing fine as as he was sleeping. So it was a very lucky opportunity. I would go sleep at someone’s house technically and show up at home the next morning with like a hundred bucks. It was easy money. But I found out that I really grew fond of this elderly couple I was taking care of. And he was a world war II vet. His, his story was incredible. He was like, you meet, you meet some world war II vets. It’s getting pretty rare these days, but he was actually like in Europe with the Nazis, like he had some crazy stories and some awesome memorabilia. So I realized that these people have stories and they’re not just old people. There are people that we should love and take care of and not just make sure that they’re they’re alive.
Dakota Aitken (03:32):
I ended up working for home helpers for about a month before I went to college and I was picking up all shifts that I could within my comfortability. They were the, when I was orientated, I was offered on a piece of paper that said, circle what you feel comfortable with. And I did not want to be able to, I didn’t want to have to change or toilet, male or female. I was just kind of a, a good, what do you call it? Center position or some IDLs positions. But I moved to, to Rexburg and started working for the home helpers there as a caregiver. And I had some very different clients, different dynamics. The ones in Nampa were well often paying in cash and just had a great, great home environment. And they were appreciative of the services. And then the ones that I ended up working for in Southeastern Idaho were very different.
Dakota Aitken (04:22):
Some of them were very appreciative and some of them were very entitled and expected me to do all of their work for them. And it just became very difficult and taxing on, on my emotional status. But I realized that I was still growing fond of these people, even though that they weren’t fond of me. They were just fond of my, my work ethic and my services. So being a caregiver has ups and downs. Flexibility is extremely crucial and having a good home care agency, but I’ve loved being a caregiver. I still pick up shifts today. So
Miriam Allred (04:54):
Absolutely. What were maybe the one or two of the biggest surprises being a caregiver?
Dakota Aitken (05:02):
Biggest surprises? I’d say first that I learned to love these people. I was going into the job, picking up shifts for, for cash and kind of like putting my time in. And it did not take long at all for me to, to start loving and caring for these people. And there was one night I remember in particular that the guy was laying in bed and I S I was laying, it was kind of a different situation. He had a queen or a King size bed in his bedroom, and then he had a twin size bed on the other side of the bedroom for the caregiver. He couldn’t talk very loud. So usually with an overnight shift, you’ll be in an adjacent, in an adjacent room or something, and they’ll yell for you when they need help, but he didn’t, he wasn’t able to speak very loud.
Dakota Aitken (05:43):
So you just lay there in the same room as I’m in, try to get some rest, but we were talking for three or four hours all night. He would just lay in bed and tell me his stories. And it was just so cool. And even the people that I struggled to bond bond and get along with, I was determined to make sure that they, they received the best quality of care, because there, there was a reason that they were in a specific position in their life and they actually needed the help, whether or not they were grateful for it. So that was a big surprise as well as just the people I got to surround myself with. I’m a, what they call a rare breed in home care. 99% of caregivers are women. And the both agencies I worked for had to work really hard to find clients that were compatible for a male caregiver. Most of the time I would do very minimal tasks. I wouldn’t help a lot with personal care or toileting or peri care or showering which helped me. I didn’t feel super comfortable with that, but I was willing if I got trained and I was never trained. So just being in a, in an industry, which I still am with 99% females is very interesting and you learn a lot very quick.
Miriam Allred (06:52):
What unique experiences? I just am thinking, I have this visual image of you in the bed, in the same room as the client, and it’s, it’s such unique experiences in home care and caregiving things that you’d never thought you would probably do. You’re doing, and I love that you enjoyed it so much, and we’re so passionate about it and wanted to hear the stories and genuinely help these people. I think that is so incredible. I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about maybe a couple of the biggest challenges you experienced. You said the second agency you know, you had some issues or maybe some qualms with the clients feeling entitled and maybe some scheduling issues. What were either elaborate on those, or what, apart from that, what were one or two of the biggest challenges you experienced early on?
Dakota Aitken (07:43):
Absolutely. So some, I mean, every agency throughout the world is different on how they deal with schedules. Some are flexible and some are very demanding and taxing on your time and have high expectations and wide open availability. So I, as a full-time college student had classes five days a week, different times. And the second agency I worked for was promising to be flexible with my schedule, but every weekend I would get a new, a new schedule with new clients and was told show up, or, or there’s the door. I was struggling to pay through school. So I was showing up and I was missing classes and my grades were getting affected and it was very difficult. So I learned a lot on how I want a future agency to be ran. I, I mean, I never assumed that I would even be in this position that I am right now, but I did learn a lot as far as working with your caregivers and being flexible.
Dakota Aitken (08:30):
That’s why they want to be a caregiver. A lot of them start a lot of them know that they want to be in a position to care for elderly and disabled, but most of them still want a job that they can be flexible, that they can request a day off, or they can be able to change their shifts according to their needs with their family. Caregiving is should be a very flexible industry. It’s, I tell a lot of the people that I hire that is very different from any other work in healthcare, because if you’re at a facility or at a hospital, that’s shift work, you show up you, if you sign up for first, second or third shift and you you’re there, and if you need someone to cover you, or you need a day off, you get that requested.
Dakota Aitken (09:10):
But with us, you have to deal with two people’s schedules. The clients have a special request and the caregivers have a special availability. So if someone’s willing to work Monday through Friday nine to five, and then, or, and then the clients are asking for Monday, Wednesday, Friday, noon to seven, you have to find some compromise. So that was a very, it’s a very big challenge throughout the industry. And I, I found it a lot with in my days as a caregiver. So I realized that you need to be as flexible as possible and show care for your caregivers, or they’re not going to like their job, an unhappy caregiver doesn’t provide good care for their clients. And that’s something that I really learned.
Miriam Allred (09:47):
And it’s great that you experienced that firsthand now that you’re more in charge and overseeing caregivers. It’s great that you could experience that firsthand. So you have been in their shoes and can provide that flexibility now as an admin staff. So, so let’s talk a little bit about your journey to Home Care Pulse. You’re actually the first person on the show that we’ve interviewed that has worked at Home Care Pulse. But like you said, you know, you were there in the Boise area. Then you came here to Southeast Idaho, we’re working for the Home Helpers while going to school. While you were going to school, you got hooked up with Home Care Pulse and worked as a Research Associate. Some of our listeners may know what that entails. Some may not. So talk to me a little bit about your experience working here, you know, what is your day-to-day look like? What did you learn? You know, that’s helped you today.
Dakota Aitken (10:41):
Of course Home Care Pulse was probably one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. And by far the best job I ever had at college the environment was, was absolutely unbeatable. As far as a college job went as also as well as participating in, in a job that actually matters. A lot of people, college students, jobs in Rexburg are focused around food, entertainment and other call centers. But this one, you realize that you are making a difference even as a Research Associate. So the day-to-day work was phenomenal, very flexible with the schedules. I if I were to run a business for college students, I would model it. Absolutely no different than Home Care Pulse does the way that they allow their, their associates to schedule their, their week around their own, their own class schedule and whatnot. You’re, you’re in charge of your schedule.
Dakota Aitken (11:34):
You show up and then you show up and work is a blast. You have fun while you’re, you’re changing the world in a sense. So Home Care Pulse is awesome. The environment was the best. The admin staff really make sure that they, they provide a presence with the Associates so that there’s not a disconnect. I was able to become good friends with. I mean, I’ve met you a couple of times just because your brother worked with me, but also I was able to get pretty close with Kire and just have opportunities and conversations with him that really helped me to get where I am today as well.
Miriam Allred (12:07):
Absolutely. Talk to me a little bit. So our audience knows what, what you were doing every day as an Associate. You know, you were actually calling these clients and caregivers and getting their feedback. What experience did you gain there that’s even helped you todayas a director?
Dakota Aitken (12:24):
As a caregiver, I, I saw a few things of potential issues that could happen in home care, but working as Associate with Home Care Pulse helped me see everything that could go wrong and also things that matter to caregivers and clients to provide quality care. So I I would show up at work and you’d sign in and you just get calling people. The system is incredible in that it does it automatically. So you have to just wait for someone to pick up the phone. And these are all leads given from the agencies of caregivers or clients, depending on their specific contract. And then you just get to find out what their experience is with their current home home care agency. Sometimes you find that they have been with an agency for 10 years and that they love their caregiver. Who’s been with them just as long and everything’s dandy.
Dakota Aitken (13:10):
And sometimes you find out that they have hopped agencies been with three different agencies in the last year, and it’s because no, no agency can provide a consistent caregiver. The caregivers show up late they’re untrained. There’s just, there can be a lot of issues as with any other industry in the world. But working as a satisfaction, associate quality assurance or whatnot, whatever you call it really helped me be the leader and establish the management style that I want to here at Home Helpers in Coeur. D’alene that just being able to see what’s important to caregivers and what’s important to clients, and then making sure that those are priorities to us as an admin staff to provide a fulfilling environment and a, like a happy work-life work-life balances is important to us. And we know that home care is what we say very flexible, but also very demanding. If someone calls off on a shift and we’re calling someone at nine, 9:00 PM to cover a shift at 11 or even six in the morning. So if our caregivers feel loved and welcome, then they will trust and be able to help us with shifts that they need and whatnot. So home care pulse has been the biggest springboard to me having a happy career in, in home care and just the opportunities that they provide to see what people, what truly matters to both sides of the industry is, is a bar. Pardon?
Miriam Allred (14:33):
I may be biased, but you having worked as a caregiver and as an Associate here at Home Care Pulse, I think that is ingredients for success to be a Branch Director for Home Helpers. I think they obviously saw the potential in you, but also the experiences that you’ve had is invaluable, not only experiencing caregiving as firsthand, but like you said, you were on the phone, day-to-day with both clients and caregivers hearing their feedback firsthand. So you didn’t have to live and breathe those experiences, but you were able to hear them firsthand. And now as a Director, you’re able to look back and see, well, these were all these issues or the successes that these agencies were having both on the client, client, and caregiver front. And now I can, you know, have that context in mind as I’m making decisions and operating, operating on a day to day. I think that is so incredible. So appreciate you sharing that. I think it’s awesome that we’ve actually rubbed shoulders in person in and out here we are having this conversation. It’s incredible.
Dakota Aitken (15:31):
Miriam Allred (15:33):
So, so let’s segue into your role today. When did Home Helpers reach out to you and give you this opportunity to become a Branch Director?
Dakota Aitken (15:43):
So in the story we’re missing a very crucial part of my, my career in home care as I was before. So after I was a caregiver, I started working at just a random job in Rexburg. And then I had a summer break where I wanted to move back to Boise with my folks and save up some money for college. I found an opportunity to work for the previous Home Helpers. The first time I was, I worked for I just called my previous boss, the owner there in Nampa and, and said, Hey, do you have any opportunities that I could fulfill an internship with you guys as an admin administrator? He crunched some numbers and found that he could give me a paid a paid internship as a scheduler. And I was jumping for joy, as most internships in healthcare are unpaid.
Dakota Aitken (16:29):
You take what you can get and you do whatever you can to get an internship. So I was able to save up a lot of money and find an experience on the admin side that gave me like a boost. And he was the one that referred me to work for home health or for Home Care Pulse. He was, he’s a good friends with Kire as well. So that, that job is what provided me some trust and proved my work ethic for Home Helpers as well as going to home care pulse. So when I mean, COVID is, has hammered the world in a lot of negative ways, but I’ve been very blessed when college campuses around the nation closed down. A lot of my roommates and friends had decided to move home for the summer, or at least for the time being to save money and spend time with family.
Dakota Aitken (17:14):
And I was a senior in college, so I wasn’t enthusiastic about living with mom and dad at 23 again. So I just, I just decided to stay in Rexburg as long as I can, and then kind of milk my job there at Home Care Pulse. So there was a big transition with working online and figuring out how to do that with COVID. So I was enjoying the opportunity to, to be a guinea pig with, with Home Care Pulse, and figure that out. But I was visiting home for a weekend when we had school canceled and I ran into my previous boss there at Home Helpers. And I had worked for him at this 0.3 times, twice as a caregiver, and then as a, as a care manager or a scheduler. And he mentioned that he was acquiring the Boise office and the which is who got him in business in the first place.
Dakota Aitken (18:04):
So he was very excited about that. They’d been growing a lot and I was just super excited and happy for the, the business that I want to think that I helped grow and run. And then he mentioned that he had received an offer to buy the Cour d’Alene branch up here. But he didn’t have anybody to, to run it. And I thought that he was just telling me a story. We were good friends. And I was like, Oh shoot. And I knew that he had connections up here. He is. He used to work for Wells Fargo as a banker statewide. So he had traveled up here and I knew that he was interviewing a few people or seeing if they were interested in the position of running the branch up here. But it just fit perfectly with my, my my life.
Dakota Aitken (18:46):
I was trying to transition into a career and I was able to finish school online. So he formally invited me to interview for the position over 18 holes of golf. And that just turned into asking a bunch of questions and seeing if we would be a good fit for each other. Moving forward. I remember the first day that I interviewed with home helpers as a, for my internship he said, do you see yourself with home helpers in five years? And I kind of be asked and said, absolutely. I was like I could see myself if there’s provides enough growth. I knew I, we’d never expected to take over more territories. I thought that I’d become like a marketer and assistant admin for that Boise office. And I’ve, I’m very ambitious. So I thought that I’d end up out East or somewhere else. So I said, yes, hoping to find the opportunity to grow, not expecting that. Three years later I’d been a Branch Director position up in Northern Idaho and I’m, I’m incredibly happy. So the move was very quick. I, after interviewing, we decided that the takeover date would be May 1st, and this was like April, April 10th or something like that. So I moved all my stuff from Rexburg to Boise. And then from Boise to Cour d’Alene within two weeks found an apartment sight unseen and started working. It was, I’ve never looked back.
Miriam Allred (20:08):
Oh my goodness. Thanks for recapping all of that. What an experience, what was your initial reaction when he brought up the idea of a Branch Director? Did you feel inadequate? Did you feel prepared? What was kind of your, what was going on in your head?
Dakota Aitken (20:26):
I don’t, I don’t, I don’t even know. I feel like I’m trying to remember it. It’s just like, I’m feeling it all over again. I’m just, I’m just like speechless kind of the opportunity seems too good to be true, especially for someone who hasn’t even graduated college. But also I was very nervous about leaving the, the culture and the environment that I was in college. I was on student council there at BYU-Idaho, and I loved my, the opportunities that, that presented me Home Care Pulse was very flexible with my schedule with, with that as well. I also had friends. And so moving up here, I, I did a lot of thought and prayer about it, and it honestly, initially it was a no, like I was not, I was not going to take the opportunity. I was thinking that I’d rather go a hundred thousand dollars in debt over the next three or four years and get a master’s degree and live out East.
Dakota Aitken (21:16):
And after I thought and prayed about it a whole lot, like for every day, for probably a week or so leading up, up to, and after the, the golf session with Jeff I realized at first I made a pros and cons list when he first offered me the job and it was like 30 cons and one pro and the pro is to make money. And then I, I re-evaluated that pros and cons list everyday for a week. And the pros just kept getting longer and the cons got shorter. And the opportunity to establish a management style for myself is, is unheard of 23 year old executive. And in any industry is very, very rare, especially in healthcare, but all around the world, you’d almost have to be an entrepreneur to do, to do so. So finding an opportunity to, to lead and manage and, and just have opportunities. I, I surround myself with people who have been in healthcare for 30 years and who are making much more money than I am, but we’re peers. And I, I, can’t be more grateful for the opportunity.
Miriam Allred (22:20):
Looking ahead. I’d love to hear. What advice do you have for younger professionals? You’ve been through a lot over the last few years, what advice, or what would you say to others in similar stage of life as you looking to get into a healthcare or home care profession?
Dakota Aitken (22:38):
Yeah, so my, my initial thought was that I was going to run a hospital. And so, number one, just be open to opportunities given to you because God has a plan and you’ll get, you’ll get to where you need to be. I, one of the biggest things that I have struggled with transitioning from a entry-level position to a managerial position is just professionalism. The way you hold yourself is very important to, to yourself, your reputation, the business’s reputation in your community. People need to recognize that you are, you are a professional and that you need to hold yourself as such. I have absolutely the best bosses in the world who provide guidance on what to do, how to, how to hold yourself and also learn out of this world experiences from someone who’s been in health and home care for, for, for 20 years.
Dakota Aitken (23:38):
So advice is number one, just take whatever opportunities come at you. I mean, if it’s within your reach in your realm, if you’re looking to, to advance your career, just, just start looking connections are everything. Connections got me from working graveyards for cash to working for home care pulse, and establishing a career in home care that I never imagined as well as maintaining those relationships is just as important. I know a lot of people who have like 5,000 connections on LinkedIn and they don’t know any of them. And, and that, that can be very non beneficial. If you’re not maintaining relationships with the people that you care about and the ones that can provide you opportunities of growth in the future. So number one is to take opportunities. Number two has maintained relationships.
Miriam Allred (24:25):
Thank you. I appreciate everything that’s been said and what an incredible story. I think it is one of a kind, and I appreciate you being willing to share with our audience.
Dakota Aitken (24:35):
No, I’ve been so grateful for this opportunity with Home Care Pulse. I can’t give a enough, five star, or two thumbs up reviews. So anybody looking for a job, both as a Research Associate or an admin, please please know that you’d be in good hands. The, the culture is unbeatable. I’m so grateful for being in home care. It’s something I never imagined doing, but now I don’t see myself living without it.
Miriam Allred (25:01):
Thanks again for listening to this episode of Vision. If you’d like to learn more about Home Care Pulse, and how we help individual agencies visit our website homecarepulse.com, we provide more than blogs, eBooks, webinars, and podcasts, and we’d love to meet you and show you how we can partner with your agency. Thanks again and we’ll see you next time!
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