Conor McDermott '12 and his team at Kind Senior Care help seniors live independently and thrive. The pandemic has made their services even more essential.
When Conor McDermott ‘12 opened Kind Senior Care in the fall of 2019, a goal that’s been close to his heart since he was a teenager, he didn’t expect to be navigating an international public health crisis just a few months later.
“Global pandemic wasn’t a part of the business plan,” says McDermott, a native of Rochester, New York, who now lives in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
This is something McDermott’s been saying a lot lately, and though it’s intended to provide some comic relief, its implications are no joke. Over the past couple of months, McDermott and his staff have had to adapt to safely serve their community, which happens to be one of the populations most at-risk to dangers posed by COVID-19.
Kind Senior Care is a nonmedical home care business that aims to help seniors live independently at home for as long as possible. Employees assist with everyday things like meal preparation, grocery shopping, prescription pick-ups, and transportation to appointments, but the job is so much more than checking off boxes on a task list.
“Even though we’re nonmedical, a lot of what we do is really important to help people live healthy lives,” says McDermott.
Because seniors are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19, the CDC recommends they remain in their homes to limit exposure. While this necessary precaution keeps them safe, it can be quite isolating. To prevent loneliness and promote holistic wellbeing during this time, Kind Senior Care not only helps seniors safely acquire food and prescriptions, but it also offers compassion and companionship.
“The social determinants of health are really important,” says McDermott. “That’s where our caregivers and our company come in to provide human interaction by listening and having conversations.”
Though the pandemic wasn’t part of McDermott’s long-term plans, starting an elder care business has been a dream of his for many years. After his grandmother’s battle with ovarian cancer, his family started a similar business in Rochester in 2007, where McDermott helped out as a teenager and a college student.
“The type of impact you get to have on seniors and people every single day is awesome. No other job could really compare,” he says.
Recent events have placed unanticipated demands on McDermott and given him a new perspective on the industry he’s passionate about, making COVID-19 the ultimate crash course in crisis management. On Monday, March 23, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker issued an emergency order requiring all non-essential services and businesses to halt operations. Kind Senior Care qualifies as an essential business, and McDermott’s team had to work quickly and resourcefully to acquire personal protective equipment (PPE) and train all caregivers to ensure compliance with mandated safety procedures and, more importantly, protect their clients.
“Quite frankly, without our services, many of our clients wouldn't be able to live independently at home,” says McDermott. “Maybe they don't have family close by, or they would have had to go into an assisted living or independent living facility. So we really, really had to be there.”
"Even when everything might feel intimidating, you learn to take things one step at a time. The liberal arts education prepares you to identify a problem, tackle it, and move forward." —Conor McDermott '12
McDermott also looked to his community for support. McDermott’s girlfriend, Anna Manning ‘15, recently became a registered nurse, and her mother has been making and supplying masks. He also partnered with Smoky Quartz Distillery across the border in Seabrook, New Hampshire, which has helped supply hand sanitizer to his staff.
“We had to adapt on the fly, which was actually somewhat easier for us as a new business because we’re smaller and more nimble. We were able to make some quick changes and our caregivers have been incredible,” says McDermott.
As a business owner, McDermott says the pandemic has been a critical learning experience, but his ability to be versatile and to feel comfortable solving complicated problems under serious pressure are skills he honed as a student at St. Lawrence.
“Even when everything might feel intimidating, you learn to take things one step at a time. The liberal arts education prepares you to identify a problem, tackle it, and move forward,” he says.
McDermott has learned a lot from peers, alumni, and small business owners who came before him. Operating a new business and navigating big challenges might not always be rocket science, but it requires diligence, fortitude, and integrity--all of which he’s putting to the test to make a difference for his clients right now.