Joel Theisen founded Lifesprk 14 years ago to help break what he calls the “roller coaster of health care crisis” in which seniors find themselves making repeat visits to the hospital or emergency room that eventually lead to them ending up in a nursing home.
“This roller coaster is happening at enormous rates around the country,” he said. “It’s sad and it’s what we want to break.”
Lifesprk looks to change that pattern by focusing not just on a person’s medical needs. It assigns seniors a “life care manager,” a registered nurse who is on-call 24/7 and works with the individual and their family to develop a life plan that ensures they feel a purpose, can fulfill their passions, have social and financial support and have a stable, safe home.
By focusing on those attributes, he said, seniors are more likely to live healthier, more fulfilling and independent lives. “We’re trying to create a longitudinal, or a long-term, relationship with somebody over time,” he said.
His Edina company, which provides a full range of services from life coaching to private-pay and insurance-paid home care, has found a respected partner in the health world that also bought into its model.
Lifesprk has formed a joint venture with Intermountain Healthcare — a Utah system of hospitals, clinics and health plans — to bring its services to the Salt Lake City area and to other parts of Utah later this year. The partnership, called Homespire, marks the first time Lifesprk is expanding outside of Minnesota.
“They’re like the gold seal,” Theisen said of Intermountain, adding that it was Intermountain that reached out to Lifesprk as part of a national search for care coordination and private-pay home services.
“There’s a lot of validity when somebody like that partners with you in this way,” he said. “That carries a lot of water.”
Intermountain has a 55 percent ownership in Homespire, and Lifesprk owns the other 45 percent of the business. While it has a different name, Homespire has a similar care model and philosophy to Lifesprk.
“As the total number of seniors in our area increases significantly, and the number of family members that are caregivers continues to shrink, we’re anticipating a gap in the care we’re able to provide our aging population,” Kim Henrichsen, a senior vice president for Intermountain, said in a statement.
Lifesprk “has a proven model that delivers on our mutual vision of enabling seniors to remain in their homes longer by living healthy, independent lives,” she said.
Lifesprk, which has served more than 14,000 Minnesotans since it was founded, has about 450 part-time and full-time employees. It brought in about $22 million last year and expects to reach $30 million this year, Theisen said.
Lifesprk’s life-coaching services cost a few hundred dollars a month. Its average client spends about $2,000 a month on both in-home care and a life-care manager.
But Theisen noted that price tag is still less than assisted living, which can cost anywhere from $3,500 to $8,000 a month.
Before Lifesprk, Theisen, a critical-care nurse by training, started a similar business in California called AdvoLife, which was backed by venture capital. He said he felt pressured to change its focus and sell the business.
So in 2004 when he started his next business, which he initially named AgeWell Home Care, he decided he wanted more control over it. He raised about a half-million dollars from friends and family. Several years ago, he changed its name to Lifesprk.
“We realized we didn’t want to be a company that was just focused on aging, we wanted to be focused on living. So we took the ‘age’ out of it,” he said. “That’s why our name now is Lifesprk with no ‘a.’ We want to look at people for people and not judge them or discern them by their age.”
Many of the competitors in his space, he said, focus on just one kind of service — home care or assisted living. Lifesprk is trying to differentiate itself by providing the whole gamut of services and by finding a financial model to reward itself for helping seniors stay healthier longer.
“Because we don’t want to be a mom-and-pop, Pollyannaish sort of another company that is doing this work, we’ve created a lot of data and analytics to validate this approach,” he added.
He has been working with researchers to show that Lifesprk’s approach can reduce emergency room and hospital visits by roughly 50 percent.
Now that he has the model down and data to prove it, he’s planning to look to further expand outside of Minnesota starting next year.
“We now have enough horsepower,” he said. “We believe this model is right for everyone. It doesn’t matter your socioeconomic class.”