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A Match Made in Heaven

Great Falls husband and wife team pursue their dream of running a senior care business.

Driving home after leaving their second son to start his freshman year in college, Beverly Luce turned to her husband Jim Luce and informed him that she officially needed something to do.

"I said, look, we have three sons, two of whom are in college, and I don't want to sit by the phone waiting for them to call," said Beverly Luce.

Jim Luce had been working for an insurance company but was looking to start his own business. His wife's statement inspired him to brainstorm a way to combine his entrepreneurial ambitions with her expertise as a registered nurse.

"We knew we wanted something that would be a business, but that would also provide a service," said Jim Luce.

The couple, who have resided in Great Falls for 25 years, decided that a company that provided in-home care to seniors would be something that fit all of their criteria. Jim Luce would handle the business aspect, Beverly Luce would manage the caretakers, and both would be running a company that provided a much needed service.

Jim Luce initially investigated the possibility of opening a senior care franchise. However, his discovery of California- based company Senior's Choice made him realize that he and Beverly could start their own business — and do it according to their rules.

Senior's Choice is a member’s organization that was created by a former senior care franchise owner. Those who join are able to access a plethora of information on how to run their own senior care business.

"We were able to get training and a lot of start up materials," said Jim Luce. "The result is that we were able to customize our business and make Anova Senior Kare a stand-alone company. What we do with it is really up to us."

ANOVA Senior Kare opened its doors in October 2005 and has proven to be a constant project of love, labor and learning for the Luce's.

"When you have your own company, you're always thinking about it," said Beverly Luce. "You wake up at 2 a.m. thinking, what else can I do, and what else needs to be done?"

In April, the Luces decided to create an advisory board that would help guide the company. They appointed four McLean and Great Falls residents as board members, choosing individuals who worked in fields relevant to senior care. Stephen Dulaney, owner of Great Falls State Farm Insurance Agency, was one of those invited to join.

"I'm in the insurance business and I do long-term care, so that's kind of what appealed to me about their offer to sit on their advisory board," said Dulaney, who is also vice president of membership for the Great Falls Business and Professional Association. "Senior health care is a big issue and a big concern for people."

Other members include Joan Bardsley, assistant vice president of the scientific affairs division of the Medstar Research Institute, Richard Buchanan, principal of building evaluations and a licensed architect with a concentration in gerontology, and Thomas Kuehne, chairman of the Douglas Michaels Corp, who brings 30 years of senior management experience to Anova Senior Kare.

BEVERLY LUCE prides herself on what she calls her "matchmaking skills," and does her best to assign the right caretakers to the right clients. For Beverly, this means thinking carefully and deliberately about personality types, and about which caretaker's skills complement which clients needs.

"I really try to make it a good match," said Beverly Luce. "When you have somebody in your home, the hope is that it will eventually become a friendship of some kind."

Beverly Luce personally screens and chooses each Anova Senior Kare caregiver. Not all caregivers are registered nurses, but they are all carefully selected and matched based on their qualifications. Anova Senior Kare also bonds and insures each of its caregivers. One of Beverly Luce's rules of thumb is to ask herself if she would want the candidate in question to look after her mother and Jim's mother.

"My mother and Jim's mother are two very different people, so if they could handle both of them, I know they must be good," said Beverly Luce.

Anova Senior Kare currently employs approximately 30 caretakers, all of whom work a variety of hours. The caretakers check in via a computer phone system the moment they arrive at the client's house. The Luce's said that this ensure that everyone is where they need to be, and it assires the caretakers that they will get paid for the hours they work.

"Our clients are really important to us, but our caregivers are really important to us too," said Beverly Luce. "It's important for our caregivers to be happy so they do a good job."

Beverly Luce said she also makes every effort to make permanent caretaker-client matches because familiarity fosters better service and better relationships.

"I try really hard to have the same caregiver all the time because then they get to know the client and the needs of the client," she said.

Annette Little recently moved to Great Falls to live with her daughter, son-in-law, and three grandchildren. She started working for Anova Senior Kare in February, and has loved it.

"They do a great deal of investigating of both their applicants as well as their perspective clients, and they are very good at putting the two together," said Little. "They are very concerned and very thorough in what they do."

THE LUCES have also incorporated additional services such as the Cognitive Retention Therapy program, which plugs a favorite memory of the senior into a computer program, generating a series of questions that can be used by the caretaker and family members to trigger the mind into remembering. This type of therapy is generally done about three times a week in one hour sessions.

Jim Luce discovered Cognitive Retention Therapy through his Senior Choice resources, but stumbled on another program now used at Anova Senior Kare, through Internet research. This other program, "Brain Fitness," is targeted at adults in their 40s, 50s and 60s who are seeking to prevent memory loss.

"It's much like going to the gym for your brain," said Jim Luce.

The Luce's would like to find more supplemental services like these to add to their business model. They are also hoping to eventually expand their services to the entire D.C. Metro area.

"This really is something that we want to do for the long haul," said Beverly Luce. "This is not just something that we want to do for a couple of years."