FirstLight Home Care

An Interview with Jaye McCoy, Owner of FirstLight Home Care
By Alex Ferguson and Nick Staver, Creighton University MBA Students

Where were you born and raised? What kind of educational background do you have?

 I was raised in Omaha. My family had been in the restaurant business, since about 1930, and I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. The Firmatures have owned a number of restaurants; Trentino’s which was on 10th and Pacific, the Gas Lamp Restaurant, the Sidewalk Cafe. In fact, The Brothers Bar, which is a Creighton hangout, was originally our family’s business.

I went to [Archbishop] Ryan High School in Omaha, which is no longer here, and then I went to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where I was a theatre major. That’s what I wanted to pursue, that was my lifelong dream; to become a famous actress and singer.

Could you detail your career trajectory for us?

 You know, I haven’t really had a career trajectory. To me that means you’re in college and you pick a major and then move ahead in the direction you’ve chosen. As a theatre major, I went from going out to California to pursue that, to deciding to come back to Omaha and work in my family’s restaurants. I worked in radio as the continuity director at KFAB where I wrote and produced commercials. I went into sales at different radio stations, and I was in sales at a photography studio. I also worked as a counselor at the Boys Town National Hotline.

So you’ve been all over the place?

 Yeah, I had a lot of different experiences. And then I got married, and my husband had a small laundry business. We took this small business and turned it into a larger service called Diamond Laundry, which we operated for over twenty years. I was more in the background, but I was a partner in the business; a stay at home mom who did sales, bookkeeping, payroll and all of those types of things, and my husband ran the plant on a daily basis. Then about four years ago we received a letter from a broker who said there were people interested in buying our laundry business, and they wanted to know if we would be interested in selling.

My husband and I had talked about selling from time to time, but we still had kids in private schools so we still needed income! I had been wanting to go back to work full time, and then the broker asked me what kind of business I was looking for. I told her I wanted a recession proof business, something in the medical field. We had been a medical laundry service, focusing on doctors’ offices, dental offices, and we knew that healthcare was a good area to be in. I told her, “this may sound strange, but I really want to do something where I can express my faith and my values, and do something at this stage of my life that’s more purpose driven. I don’t just want to own a business and sell widgets and make a paycheck; that’s not where my heart is.” She told me she thought she had the perfect business for me, and truthfully, it [FirstLight Home Care] was the only business that I looked at.

And you’re still glad you made that decision?

Oh absolutely. When I was offered this business, even though I had no background in home care whatsoever, everything about it resonated with my in terms of what it offers people. It’s like a ministry to me, when you go into people’s homes at such a vulnerable time in their lives. It’s so physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing on the people who are ill and their families. While of course I want to make money, that’s not the driving force behind it for me. I really believe that’s where ethics, morals, and integrity get involved. You cannot go into somebody’s home without having good values, morals, and integrity. One of the things that I said when I won the Better Business Bureau Integrity Award is that everybody should operate from a place of integrity and ethics. There are certain businesses where I can’t imagine doing them without integrity and ethics. In the era that I grew up, what we call “concierge service” today was just what everybody did. Doctors came to houses, you went to the gas station and they filled up your tank for you. I grew up in a generation where honesty and service was just expected.

What would you say you enjoy most about the work that you do?

 It’s such a privilege to go into people’s homes, and it’s particularly touching with hospice. You aren’t just helping the person who’s dying, but their family too. To be able to be with people at various stages of their life, but particularly the end, is amazing to me and I always feel very privileged by it. I try to be a resource and do anything that I can to help people whether they ultimately do business with me or not.

So to you, business is more than just putting food on your family’s table?

 Oh gosh, yes. They talk about “do the things that you love and you’ll always be happy and make money” and it’s true, because when it’s your heart leading the way and not your head, and it’s not just about money in the bank, it’s a whole different experience. The money is secondary, very much so.

What would you say you enjoy least about the work that you do?

 Probably what every business owner likes least: the paperwork, it’s never ending. But really, that’s just the nature of the beast. I’ve felt very blessed every minute that I’ve been in this business. I’ve never had a morning where I’ve woken up and said “I don’t want to go to work today.

 What does “ethics” mean to you?

 To me, being ethical is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking. It’s doing the things you’re supposed to do and then some. It’s about integrity, morality, values. It’s about living life and doing business in such a way that I can put my head on my pillow at night and feel good about what I’ve done.

Would you say that there’s a difference between ethics in general and ethics in business?

 I mean, I don’t really think there is. Values are values and you are either ethical or you’re not. I very much do my best to live an ethical life personally and an ethical life in business. I don’t know how you can act in one way for part of your life and not the other, and I just think that it all starts with who you are personally and if that’s grounded in you and foundational in you as a person. You know, the Better Business Bureau Integrity Award, filling out the application and looking at all the different facets of your business that they ask you about, it’s really a beacon for me now. It’s a beacon that I have sitting in front of me that tells me what I have to strive for on a daily basis.

You mentioned that when you looked into starting a business, you wanted something unique that would allow you to be faith driven in your work. Do you believe FirstLight is the right organization for you to be a faith driven owner, and has that made it easier to be ethical in business?

 Absolutely, because my faith is foundational to me. For me, living a faith filled life informs me that these are all the things that I need to do on a daily basis, whether it’s in business or in life. The blessing that I have is that I can actually live out my faith with the people I’m helping. I’ve prayed with them, I’ve held their hands, I’ve listened to them. All of those very personal things that, in a lot of careers and businesses, you don’t get. Again, I’m grateful that I’m able to share my faith appropriately with my clients, and that I am being a person of service.

 And the corporate office gives you the freedom to run your franchise in the way that you see fit?

 They do, and my faith isn’t important to them. I can go into someone’s home and regardless of their beliefs or mine we share very common things like having taken care of our parents. It’s just important to me that I, personally, can operate in that way.

Does FirstLight provide employees a formal ethics program?

 I wouldn’t say that we have an ethics program the way that some corporations do, but personally, I operate this business with all of the corporate structure that drives a business. I grew up in the restaurant business and had very personal experiences with customers, how we treated them like family, and making the experience a great one. All of those things are part of our FirstLight “Culture of Care”, which starts at the top with the corporation. It’s what we bring in when we train our employees, how we treat employees and clients, and our expectations of who our caregivers are and how they present themselves.

 So you would say that ethical behavior is a basic expectation of a good employee?

 Oh absolutely. And again, we have people going into homes, into very vulnerable situations. Not only do we expect ethical behavior, we also background check, drug test, and use all of those standard practices, because this is a business of trust. If you’re going into a person’s home, they need to trust you. There’s a trust level in all business, but how much trust a person needs varies depending on the business.

How have you infused ethics into your organization? Are your employee policies effective in ensuring ethically appropriate behavior when handling clients?

 Well we certainly have policies, an employee handbook, where a lot of things are outlined. But I think it’s mainly just in the way we operate. We expect our employees to be on time, be accountable, dress properly, act politely, and do the job that they’re supposed to do. As we bring people in, we have an educational process, because everyone comes in at a different level. We strive to have them be as professional as possible, but we also educate along the way, because everybody’s skillsets, social awareness, intuition, and all of that which is necessary to do the job are different.

When you’re onboarding new employees, what kind of training do they go through?

 So, we ask our employees to do layers of interviewing before we bring them on board, we do background checks, drug tests, everything like that. If it all works out and we decide to hire them, there is an orientation process where they’re trained on different skill sets, medical conditions, and a variety of tools and insights that they need to be able to do this job. A lot of our employees are CNAs, so they’re already schooled in a lot of it, but we sit down and talk with them about what our expectations are. I have a letter that I give them, and we talk about things personally at employee meetings. At the end of the day, my employees are really the face of my business, not me.

The Ethical Omaha Project for the Business Ethics Alliance outlined core values such as: accountability, community responsibility, financial vitality, integrity, and moral courage. How have you integrated those into your business, and which have you prioritized?

I would say that financial vitality is at the bottom for me, although it is important. The more successful we are as a business, the more we can help the community. 

Accountability though, well you can’t have a successful business without being responsible and accountable. You just can’t. Accountability, to me, isn’t just about my employees being accountable and doing the right thing. It starts at the top, and it’s about me being accountable to them. I can’t be doing one thing and telling them to do something else. 

As far as community responsibility, I feel that Omaha is a tapestry of businesses, and it takes all of us together to become what this city is today. I am very proud of Omaha. I’ve lived in the Los Angeles area, I’ve lived in Chicago, and I’m just really proud of who and what Omaha is. The fact that we have organizations in the Business Ethics Alliance, and the Better Business Bureau, that combine to really educate people on the ethical, moral, valued way to be the best business that you can, is huge. Even though I’m a “little guy”, I still feel that I am the face of Omaha, just like every business is. I’m a part of a huge whole that defines who we are and what we are as a community.

Moral courage, in today’s society, is a bigger and bigger thing that is starting to evolve; the moral courage to do the right thing. We’ve seen so many examples of the generations past that haven’t done the right thing and not spoken up. There have been times in my business where I felt that something was happening with a client that shouldn’t be, and I knew in my gut that I had to do something or say something, or I couldn’t serve that client anymore because I felt that they were not getting everything they needed. If I stayed, I would be complicit in the family or the client not doing what they needed to do. I take those kinds of decisions very seriously, and to me, that’s moral courage. Sometimes I have to not look at whether I’m going to lose money, but at what’s best for the client and how I can help facilitate that. It doesn’t happen very often, but in some serious circumstances it’s almost an abusive situation or a denial situation on the person or family’s part on how badly the client is doing. That’s a point where I must say to myself, I can’t be complicit in your choices of not getting the necessary level of services you need.

 

So there are times where you’ve had to step away from the business aspect, and look at it objectively, to do the right thing?

Yeah, that’s the easiest way to put it. And I think that’s an example of moral courage, for sure. We don’t take that stuff lightly. We’re here to help.

Could you give us an ethical situation from a time in your business career that you thought was relatively easy to handle? How about one that was relatively difficult?

Well I don’t think that any ethical situation is ever easy. But, I think an “easy” ethical situation would be something that’s very black and white, and you know immediately what you need to do.

Something that was an easy decision for you to make?

 Right. That’s the only easy part, is when it’s black and white in terms of what you need to do. The hard ones are just like what I described. When I see a client that needs more care than we are able to provide. Clients that need to be in a nursing home, assisted living, or something like that. And it’s at that point that it’s hard. An example that I gave in my application for the Better Business Bureau Integrity Award, a client had a very debilitating physical disease and was in decline. He started to fall frequently and we could come in and find him with a head injury. It became increasingly difficult on our caregivers, office staff, and the client. On one hand, we were a lifeline for him, but on the other hand, we couldn’t stand by and let this keep happening. Personally, I couldn’t be complicit in it. And that’s when it’s hard; when you know on one hand you’re doing something good, but on the other hand you know that they need so much more.

So what did you end up doing?

We had conversations with his caregivers and office staff examining pros and cons for him, the family, and us. In the end, I made the decision to stop services. We had to, because the bottom line finally came in terms of what we could provide and what we believed he had come to need.”

And that’s where this business takes moral courage?

Exactly.

So why did you call the previous two situations ethical? Why would they not just be considered part of the job?

Well they’re ethical because there’s two different ways to handle those situations. You can be ethical or you can choose not to be ethical, that’s really what it comes down to. “Just business” to me is just doing what you have to do. Being ethical is doing the right thing and then some. “Just business” to me can be the path of least resistance. When you’re ethical, you’re not always taking that path. You’re often times headed in a direction that isn’t easy.

How does it feel to talk with us about the ethical issues you’ve faced? How does it feel to talk about them in your organization? Is this something that you do a lot? In other words, are ethics talked about in your organization or are they just assumed?

 Assume is one of those words that I just hate in personal life and in business life, because you will so often hear people in situations say “well I just assumed.” Don’t ever assume. For me, you have to look at yourself and the business you’re in on a daily basis. What did I do right today and what did I do wrong today? That’s life, it’s never complete. And so, it’s an educational process for all of us, and I would never just assume. There are a lot of people who are good people and they may have good hearts, who have maybe never had someone talk to them about ethics.

Do you think that the Better Business Bureau Integrity Award has helped highlight your business to the community as one that has higher standards? Have people used your business because you received the award?

I honestly could not believe the reaction that I got. It felt like I had won the Nobel Peace Prize. The BBB Integrity Award is held in great esteem in this community, and I know that it has helped me establish my business as one that people can trust and know that I will do my best to do the right thing. The more important thing for me isn’t necessarily how other people perceive it, but what it’s done for me personally, in terms of feeling that I have a commitment now and forever. I have a bar that’s so high now, and it means that every day when I go to work, when I’m dealing with people, this is who I say I am, I need to live up to this.

Does it seem to have been a big deal to your employees as well?

Oh definitely. I think this is a business where employees can be taken for granted. But I know from our corporate franchise level on down that I do not have a business without these caregivers. It’s about them and not about me. I want my employees to feel happy, proud, and comfortable with us.

Have you ever had to deal with any ethical issues with a caregiver at a client’s home?

We have, though not very often I’m pleased to say. It’s usually not about the caregiver doing something ethically wrong, but occasionally the clients can be inappropriate in a variety of ways. We do everything we can to ensure that our caregivers are safe with the people that they’re caring for, and in turn, our clients are safe with our caregivers. If we get complaints we’ll always try to work through it to everyone’s satisfaction. I am a big believer in staying in the solution and not the problem.

Either growing up or in your early career, have you ever had any ethical mentors? People that have instilled values in you?

I learned in my family’s restaurant business, but I’ve also had certain people in my life. I don’t know if they knew that they were being a mentor, but there are some really dynamic businesswomen in this city that I’ve worked with and looked up to. My previous boss, Claudia Martin from Redstone, is a part of the Business Ethics Alliance and I worked with her. She has just about every characteristic you could think of: a great businesswoman, a great human being, a strong moral compass. She does things with a lot of grace and ease, and I always looked to her as an example of a really strong and gracious businesswoman.

What was it that brought you into the Business Ethics Alliance?

Claudia’s actually the one who referred me. I won a Silver Award of Distinction from the Better Business Bureau two years ago, and had gone to lunch with her, and she told me all about the Omaha Business Ethics Alliance. And then, even though I don’t have a longstanding relationship with Dr. Kracher, you can’t meet her without knowing that she’s “all that “and more. She’s helped me on several occasions. She actually nominated me for the Better Business Bureau Integrity Award. I’ll always be grateful to both of them for who they are and how they’ve supported me.

In addition to the relationship that you’ve made throughout your career, would you say that your upbringing built some of your ethical business values?

Yeah, I would say that. I felt like my family business, and my family in general, was a great teacher for me. Life itself, the good times and the bad, have been a great teacher. My faith has been a great teacher as well. All of those things have informed me about who I am and how I want to operate.

Final question. What are some of the bigger ethical issues that you see younger business professionals facing in the coming years, and what suggestions do you have for them?

I think that instant gratification is more prevalent in this generation that previous ones. I grew up in a time where you didn’t get everything you wanted immediately. You couldn’t push a button and have things instantly at your fingertips. It sounds really old fashioned, but I try to operate in life and in business with what I call old fashioned values. I think it’s something that’s been lost. I feel that this generation coming up hasn’t dealt with or been taught the “old fashioned” values in life or in business. You will never succeed in any relationship if it’s all about you; it doesn’t matter if it’s a personal relationship or a business relationship.

I also think that the ability to communicate has been hindered. People don’t know how to articulate and really speak from the heart. I think that when you are true to yourself and speak from the heart, you will gain people’s trust. This is a generation of wanting to look good and be perceived as great, but I would say be true to yourself and dig deep to find who you are. Who we are on the inside is often very different from what we display on the outside, in good ways and bad. Find who you are, center yourself, and live a life where when you go to sleep at night, you can rest your head on the pillow and not worry about what you said or what you did that day.