PORT TOWNSEND — When Kippi Waters began the formation of the Peninsula Homecare Cooperative with six other women last year, she believed it would change the face of caregiving.
Today she believes the cooperative model, where all employees have a stake in the company, has a more universal reach.
“I think this is the solution to the problems of capitalism,” Waters said.
“It gives workers a greater incentive to be involved in their careers and can strengthen the middle class in this country.”
The Peninsula Homecare Cooperative, with 14 member owners, hopes to make local caregiving more personal, involving people who have a stake in the local community.
Waters said the co-op, which opened for business Feb. 8, is one of two worker-owned health organizations in the state — in addition to Circle of Life in Bellingham — and one of only six in the country.
It is one of four co-ops in Port Townsend, she said, along with Sunshine Propane, Blue Heron Construction and the Shipwright’s Co-op.
“This is about as close to socialism you can get in this country,” said Chris Chase, one of 12 members of the 35-year-old Shipwright’s Co-op.
“It allows everyone in the company to make decisions about their future and share in the overall benefits.”
Worker-owned co-ops differ from customer-owned co-ops such as the Food Co-Op or Quimper Mercantile in Port Townsend.
Co-ops, unlike corporations, distribute the ownership of the company among all the workers in a way that its control is managed by the employees instead of being mandated by an executive department.
Waters, who has worked in corporations, called having a board of directors “a beautiful thing” because more than one person makes the decision and, in this case, regularly shuffles the board in order to give every employee a chance to guide the business.
Its local aspect also provides a great advantage, she said, as all of the members are from Port Townsend and are invested in the community.
This is a more effective model, she said, than a caregiving organization owned by an out-of-state corporation run by people who have never been to Port Townsend.
‘Pride’ in workplace
“This empowers the worker and brings pride back to the workplace,” Waters said.
“It means a lot to have a stake in the business, especially when you are dealing with the elderly.”
Licensed caregivers are required to complete 75 hours of state-certified training.
Additionally, all of the co-op’s members hold a Certified Nursing Assistant certification, which requires another 125 training hours.
Waters said that about one fourth of Port Townsend residents are older than 65, making caregiving a local growth industry.
The occupation has a high turnover rate, which gets in the way of building long-term relationships with clients.
A caregiver’s mission is to provide assistance with daily living, she said, including getting dressed, preparing meals, providing transportation, running errands and light housekeeping.
“The role of the caregiver changes over time,” she said. “One of the joys of caregiving is to see them all the way through from standard care to hospice care.”
Waters said that such a long-term relationship helps the client in the transition from independence to dependence and saves the client the inconvenience of having to train someone new every few months.
Waters said that co-op employees go through a three-month evaluation period during which time they get $13 an hour. If they pass the evaluation, they are raised to $15 and get an immediate voice in the company and a share of the profits.
The reaction has been so positive she expects some profit share to be distributed within a year of the co-op’s opening.
The shares will be determined by the number of hours worked, she said.
Waters said she has attempted other group projects to little success. This is the first time it’s worked well.
“Very typically it’s been my experience that it doesn’t work because egos get in the way and people get hurt,” she said.
“But this is the first time I’ve experienced gathering with people toward a common goal, because we all had a common vision that felt so important to us.”
The co-op, located at 610 Polk St., is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
For more information, call 360-385-9664.
________Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or [email protected]