Interview with Martin Varotto, the creator of Equimondo and Time.Care, the Trip Advisor of home help. With offices in Italy and an online portal in the US bringing together demand and labor supply for domestic help.
Martin Varotto is just 26 but he has learned the hard way what it means to care for a sick family member: trying to find trustworthy people to help 24 hours a day, drawing up a working agreement and handling all the red tape that’s required – all at very painful time. It’s precisely for this reason, despite his young age, that he wanted to invest in home and hospital assistance for the elderly of the third and fourth age, as well as for young people with special health problems. He recognised the needs of people going through such experiences and also saw the potential of this sector, which until a few years ago functioned almost exclusively on the black market. He created Equimondo, a co-operative business with offices in Padova, Vigoodarzere (PD) and Rovigo – in Italy. He is now also working to launch the Time.Care portal, a modern start-up still based around acting as intermediary between demand and supply in the field of social welfare assistance.
What services does your co-operative offer?
“We mediate between demand and the labour supply for domestic or hospital assistance, (daytime/24 hours a day) for the elderly and also the over-85s, self-sufficient or not, and we also provide assistance for young people with special health problems. In a nutshell, we provide general assistance through carers, qualified assistance through social healthcare professionals, or specialist care from nurses. Important services from the social point of view they are provided by the private rather than the public sector. They have a strategic role to play in today’s society given the ageing population, the greater incidence of chronic illnesses and the fact that elderly people are more alone than before. ”
Varotto founded the co-operative having experienced first-hand the whole help experience with his father. What sort of problems did he face during that difficult time?
“You don’t know who to trust, who to call to help your loved one in such a delicate time. But you can’t do everything on your own: you realise you need to trust carers, nurses and medical social workers. It takes time to choose people to trust, and often you’re in an urgent situation. You have all the bureaucracy to deal with and you need to protect yourself from the legal point of view. In short, it’s difficult. This is why I created Equimondo – to handle everything so families don’t have to.”
How do you select staff?
“We apply very strict criteria for every one we select: we investigate their experience and take up their references; we look at their educational qualifications, their personal history and their reasons for wanting to work. We investigate the availability and reliability of each worker, and especially if they are suitable for the needs of families needing the service. For this reason, before a family employs a worker, Equimondo provides for a 30-day trial period. A work placement in a home environment is not easy, especially for the carers.”
The hiring of the employee is up to the customer while you continue to provide bureaucratic assistance and information, is that correct?
“That’s right. We can’t take on workers on a customer’s behalf. The only organisations legally permitted to contract labour are the temporary employment agencies. So, staff recruitment does not go through us here at the co-operative, but rather is entrusted direct to the customer; we provide assistance and help with the bureaucracy around regular domestic worker contracts.”
What risks do households run by going to the black market or to agencies that take on carers directly?
“Families who opt for these solutions generally think they are leaving the responsibility of employing the carer to the agency, but this is not so. Many court judgments show that the family the carer works for shares joint responsibility for any irregularities concerning the working conditions about which the carers might be suing. And above all, in such cases, quality and continuity of service is never guaranteed because in these types of contracts, firstly, the carers are paid much less because the agency also needs to earn out of the arrangement and secondly, there is a faster turnover of workers.”
Are all the carers foreign?
“No, nowadays 50% of carers are actually Italian, perhaps due to the economic crisis. These mainly only offer day-time care services. But anyway, command of the Italian language and an understanding of Italian culture are two of the criteria we use in our selection of personnel.”
You are also creating an innovative, online start-up to bring together demand and supply of labour in the home environment: the Time.Care portal. It will launch first in the USA and then in Italy. What is it for?
It’s to help people find caretakers, maids, babysitters, nurses and any other person providing home-based services. By simply registering on the Time.Care site you can see Profiles both of candidates and clients with photographs, references, comments from workers’ previous employers, all presented in a simple and intuitive way, and with the legal and bureaucratic assistance of industry experts on hand. This is a site that goes far beyond simple classified ads and in September it’ll be launched here in Italy. It’s a kind of Trip Advisor for the domestic work sector.”
Visit the website: www.equimondo.net