Therapists’ touch: Husband-wife duo have combined health care knowledge with construction in home-modification business

Gregg and Karen Frank, as they put it, just can’t get away from each other.

The two met as therapists working at John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Edison, him an occupational therapist and her a physical therapist. In each of the three decades since then, their lives have become increasingly entangled, especially as they’ve worked closely together to build one of the region’s premier (and only) therapist-led home modification organizations.

It’s an all-hours, demanding operation. But, by the sounds of it, the husband-wife duo’s work through their company, Back Home Safely, is satisfying, too.

Karen and Gregg Frank.

They combine therapists and carpenter teams to offer home upgrades that allow people to stay in their own homes, sometimes following terrible accidents. It was a business concept inspired by the therapist work they’ve done (together) for years.

“Being in therapy, we saw people not able to return home after automobile accidents, swimming pool injuries or other catastrophic cases,” Gregg Frank said. “No matter how young, we’d see people ending up in nursing homes because their own homes weren’t suitable for them to live in anymore. And the issue really struck me when I had a case manager come to me and say that, even after renovating a home, the general builder had no idea how to build it safely for the person, so that person came home from the hospital and couldn’t function there.”

Their business has 20 employees, a showroom in Randolph and two warehouse offices in the state. That’s a major upgrade over the company’s 2007 start, when the employee count was six neighborhood mothers … and the physical footprint was their own workstation-packed home, where their workers’ row of parked cars made every day look like a holiday gathering.

They’re even starting to franchise the business today. The first franchisee, another husband-wife physical and occupational therapist couple, branded the business as GreenLight Mobility in North Carolina.

It’s an in-demand area of business, and not just for the obvious reason: that there’s a growing senior population. There’s also the effect COVID-19 had on the elderly wanting to stay out of assisting living centers, Frank said. And the respiratory illness itself in some cases introduced new impairments.

Back Home Safely’s model starts with assessing how those impairments may come to bear on how suited someone’s home might be for them.

“We go out to give all the advice someone should have to keep safe in their home, and we don’t charge for that at all,” Frank said. “Very often, as we’re coming in, they’re saying that there’s no way they’re paying for something like this. But, as we’re leaving, they’re determined to do it, and not have to return to a nursing home.”

As far as competition, there’s plenty of it. But few of the companies making the same home modifications — including wheelchair ramps and bars for stability — take an approach that has therapists making evaluations of a patient’s functional abilities, according to Karen Frank.

“A lot of companies are out there in sales of stairlifts or other equipment — and that’s great,” she said. “But, if you don’t understand the disabilities behind modifications to homes, it’s a huge problem. If it’s a progressive disease someone is dealing with, you really have to see it through the lens of a health care professional who understands that, so they have the foresight to see what might be good for now as well as in the future.”

She adds that these modifications, however small, can sometimes avoid life-altering accidents. Around 80% of all falls of older adults occur in the bathroom, and one out of five of those is a serious injury, she explained.

“So, something as simple as a grab bar in a shower can improve peoples’ lives, help them remain in their homes and reduce Medicare expenditures,” she said.

Spousal support

Karen and Gregg Frank of Back Home Safely convey that those working with their spouse share a certain camaraderie. They call it a club.

Also in that club? Their lawyers.

Laurie and Yale Hauptman. (Hauptman & Hauptman P.C.)

Family businesses in general gravitate to partnering with one another, the Franks say. But they can really relate to — and sometimes even commiserate with — Laurie and Yale Hauptman, a husband-wife duo who run an elder law, special needs and estate planning firm in Livingston, Hauptman & Hauptman P.C.

Laurie Hauptman, who met her husband at a law firm, joined his practice in 1998, three years after he launched it.

“So many people initially think I’m working with my brother or father,” she said. “When I tell them it’s my husband, everyone makes the comment, ‘I could never work with my spouse.’ And it doesn’t work for everyone. But, for us, we’ve had an amazing partnership.”

There’s a cooperation that she figures would be hard to match in their marriage due to their shared dedication to maintaining a flourishing practice. There’s also the mutual financial commitment of running a business together that further joins them.

On top of everything else, Hauptman said there’s no counterpart who better understands the demands of child rearing and the need to work flexible hours than your own spouse.

For all its advantages, there are some drawbacks. Disconnecting from the business occasionally is one of them.

“There is some risk that you never leave the office, because of the way work life and home life gets blurred,” she said. “I’ll tell you that my husband is better at those boundaries than I am. … But you’re always together, working together and at home, and therefore it’s hard to distinguish when to just be off.”

Still, the club of spousal business owners is one she’s glad to be a part of.

“But, I always joke that, if we ever got divorced, it would be an especially sticky situation,” she said.