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Hard work and family values

February 27, 2019

In 1989, OSMAN ‘OZZIE’ ERTOSUN, chairman of Excelcare Holdings, opened his first care home in Catford, South London. Ozzie tells Caring Times editor Geoff Hodgson his story of three decades in the care sector.

Excelcare is still a family business after 30 years. Starting with the 24-bed Bowood Nursing Home in Catford, the company now operates 33 care homes around London and East Anglia.

“Whenever we interview new staff we always stress that it’s important not to forget that we are a family business, but with corporate disciplines,” said company chairman Ozzie Ertosun.

“Because of our responsibilities in terms of regulation, local authorities, safeguarding and so on, disciplines have to be followed, but we like people to know, whether they are relatives, family, friends or staff is that they can call at any time and have an open and frank conversation – that is really, really important.”

Excelcare’s portfolio is mixed; some nursing, some purely residential and many registered as specialist dementia. The company also operates a homecare business.

In 1988, when he was just 19, Ozzie did some work experience at a care home called Nora’s Lodge in Sydenham.

“It was a small residential home belonging to a family friend. I worked there for six months, realised that it was an industry I wanted to be in, and I felt I could do it better than it was being done in those days, in a nicer building.

“Our family had a background in construction so we built our first home, Bowood Nursing Home, a 24-bed facility in Catford in 1989. I built that with my father and some tradesmen – we physically built the home over two years.

“You have really set a standard here,” a lady who was the main inspector for the Lewisham area told Ozzie.

“But you have the disadvantage that you are very young; people may not have the confidence to place your parents with you.”

“She was right,” Ozzie remembers. “For nine months I didn’t have a single admission! But I soon learnt: I got a nice, mature manager who worked for me for 28 years before retiring.”

Then, beginning in Lambeth, Ozzie began to take on ex-local authority homes. “I didn’t have a financial background and I asked my father, ‘How do I grow this company? It’s working; I’m enjoying it and it seems to be popular with the local authorities.’ He said I needed to learn how to borrow money in a bigger way – our accountant helped me to organise bank loans and we bought people on board who had worked for local authorities. They steered me towards block contracts, and this became our target market. We won a 15-year contract with Lambeth, taking over three of their homes, refurbishing them and building a new one. Then we tendered for a contract in Cambridge and that began our activity in East Anglia.

“Our hard work and family values paid off; local authorities could see we were sincere, that we weren’t here just to make some money and get out of the business. Then we gained a 30-year contract in Milton Keynes – we would buy the buildings, rebuild them and provide the care. And then we did the same thing in Essex. We didn’t really target the private market because in those days, the local authority rates gave you a reasonable return. We have always been open and honest, and local authorities know we have nothing to hide, and that our profits are at the bottom end of the market.”

Homecare

About 15 years ago, Ozzie launched a homecare business. I t has been successful and is still operating but he has recently closed some of its branches.

“We couldn’t find the staff and maintain the quality,” said Ozzie.

“How can you go in and provide 15 minutes of care for people, and at the rates that were being offered? We could see what was happening and we didn’t want to be in that market – homecare has become a disaster in some local authorities. On the whole we have a very good reputation with CQC and with local authorities and I didn’t want to bring that reputation down.”

And the future? Again, like many other providers, Ozzie is beginning to look at the private-pay market.

“We are looking to knock down some of our older buildings and build better homes for our residents. A lot of this will be ‘care suites’ – they don’t need to be flats, they can be something like a studio-type apartment but small, so elderly people can easily get around them. I would want these to be within a care home setting but provide something more than just a room with an en-suite.”

Recruitment

Like many other providers, Ozzie places recruitment at the top of his list of concerns.

“Up to two years’ ago I had never used agency staff in London. But we have struggled to get nurses and carers. We increased pay as much as we could but then it became still more difficult when government tightened the regulations for recruiting nurses from overseas. It now takes about eight months to bring a nurse in from abroad and it is so expensive that it is sometimes not cost-effective. I have closed about five homes over the last five years because the fees would not have allowed us to care for people properly.

“One thing I would like to see change, is that the recruitment process be speeded up. At present it can take up three months to six months to replace someone when they leave. We’ve written to all the ministers, all our MPs, our managers have written as well, asking them to acknowledge that we have a problem and to make these immigration policies softer and easier for qualified people to come here where they are needed. It is such a long-winded process; people can get jobs elsewhere and be working within a week, so that puts care providers at a massive disadvantage.”

Ozzie Ertosun

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