Leaders & Innovators

Mastering the Art of Recruiting with Amy Sweet

Amy Sweet is the Founder and CEO of Halcyon Home, a home care, home health, and hospice provider based in Austin, Texas. In our conversation, Amy shares her creative approach to recruiting, the secret to growing her business, and her vision for the future of helping older adults live and age with grace.

This is adapted from a Who Cares? podcast episode featuring Amy. She covers many interesting topics during the discussion, so we’ve edited her responses for this post. To hear the complete interview, visit Honor’s Who Cares? podcast page

Tell us about Halcyon Home and the work you do.

I started Halcyon Home as a private duty home care agency in 2012 but quickly realized I wanted to care for the entire person through their aging process. So I expanded the business to provide home care, home health, and hospice services—and today, we serve seven counties in the Austin area and employ over 550 people. I started caring for seniors as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) while I was training to become a physician assistant. As a CNA, I always knew how I wanted to be treated—with love, support, and respect. Since founding Halcyon, my guiding principle has been to care for my employees and treat them well.

What inspired you to start Halcyon Home?

My aunt was a movie actress who had a blood disorder that made her lose both legs below the knee. From then on, she needed caregivers. She had a vibrant personality and wanted someone to support her care needs—but also stimulate her interests. I think all clients share this desire. Everyone wants to connect with their caregiver not just on a functional level, but on a personal one.

To support my aunt, I went to community colleges in Austin and placed ads for caregivers that liked art and rap music just like she did. And it turned out to be a winning combination—the caregiver I hired still works at Halcyon six years later.

Client and caregiver looking at a book together.

What characteristics do you look for when hiring caregivers?

I look for joyful people that love communicating. I try to hire people that have a desire to give back in some way—those tend to be the best employees.

When I interview candidates, I ask questions about who they've cared for before and why, which often reveals a lot about their motivations and long-term goals. I don’t mind hiring caregivers who will only be with me for six months or a year—some of our best hires have been second year nursing students who want some hands-on experience with seniors before joining the workforce. But I do want all my employees to care deeply about supporting others.

Tell us about some of your non-traditional recruiting methods.

I visit different classes at Austin Community College—usually prerequisites for other long-term healthcare professions like occupational therapy, physical therapy, or nursing. I’ve also recruited some great employees from the social work and art departments. Art is a wonderful form of self-expression and it's something that clients really enjoy doing with our caregivers. I look for students that are interested in supporting older adults, regardless of their educational background.

I’ve also had great luck recruiting mothers whose children recently left home for college or work—now they have more time and want to give back.

How do you show your employees you value them?

We host a lot of community-building social activities—food trucks in our parking lot, holiday parties, boat rides. We have a really fun 12-hour Christmas party so our caregivers, who are all working different shifts, can attend.

But more importantly, we listen to them. Often there’s no need to fix anything, they just want someone who hears them and understands where they’re coming from. We give them the respect they deserve and the support they need when they’re struggling—maybe they have a sick child, or money is tight and they need to fill their car up with gas. Helping with the little things may keep them working here for a year or two longer than they otherwise would.

Halcyon Home has grown from zero to over 500 employees in less than six years—how did you achieve this successful, steady growth?

To grow without compromising care is a challenge. But when you really focus on providing high-quality care to your clients, the outcomes start to speak for themselves. And when you treat your employees with empathy and respect, you’ll have the team in place to be able staff those clients.

Many agencies struggle to grow for one of two reasons—they don’t have the caregivers to meet client demand or they don’t have enough clients for all of their caregivers. It’s hard to grow your caregiver team without employee satisfaction just as it’s hard to grow your client base without good outcomes and strong referral rates.

Man talking on phone smiling.

Tell us about your next project, the Tapestry community you’re building in San Marcos, Texas.

I purchased 20 acres of land in the countryside of San Marcos to build Tapestry, an all-inclusive, intergenerational senior living community. We’re scheduled to break ground and begin building in 2020.

The vision for Tapestry started when my young, vibrant aunt was looking for a place to live. Every senior living community we visited felt traditional, conservative, and not very diverse. We envisioned a colorful community with a mix of life—children, animals, college students—where people can thrive as they age. Older adults have so much to contribute, but they become isolated because it’s harder for them to get out. So we need to bring the community to them.

Are there any similar projects in the United States or globally that you look to for guidance as you develop Tapestry?

There are some great communities across the world that incorporate aspects of my vision for Tapestry—for example, senior living communities with schools onsite or dementia villages. There are restaurants serving great food to families and seniors with outdoor areas for children to play. I’m trying to take the best of what’s out there and combine it into one community.

In just a few years, you went from having the vision for Halcyon to becoming one of the biggest post-acute providers in Austin. Now, you’re building the Tapestry community in central Texas. What do you hope to accomplish by 2024?

I hope we're still providing quality home care, home health, and hospice to a much larger demographic across the state of Texas and possibly in other states. And I hope Tapestry is a thriving, living lab known for great outcomes, fewer medications, longer lives, and better patient experiences among residents. I’d like to be able to show the world what’s possible in the senior living space—and that there's a better way of doing things.

What advice do you have for an agency owner who's been providing care for two or three years and trying to figure out how to grow their agency?

Hang in there. It takes time—there were definitely times when I wasn't sure whether I’d make it. I’d ask myself, “How are you going to overcome this obstacle? What’ll happen to your reputation?” In the moment, everything seems like such a big deal—but things will work out the way they're meant to. Stay true to your values, problem solve effectively, and have patience and perseverance. Those challenging moments will define you and help you grow.

To learn more about Amy’s efforts to build a community that promotes diversity, independence, health, and longevity, visit tapestrysanmarcos.com.

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