Looking back over 20 years - Interview with H1 Healthcare Founder, Pam Easen.
February this year marks the 20th anniversary of H1 Healthcare. What better way to celebrate twenty years than speaking to the founder of H1 Healthcare, Pam Easen, and reflecting on how the company started, how it grew, and what the company has achieved over the last 20 years.
Prior to starting up the agency, Pam Easen was a self-employed nurse, an agency nurse, and a care home operator in Aberdeenshire. Pam owned 3 care homes prior to starting H1. All of this gave Pam great knowledge of the health and care sector, including knowing many great carers and clients – not to mention knowing how to provide quality care to those who need it.
This year H1 Healthcare is celebrating its 20th anniversary - what feelings and emotions spring to mind when you think about that?
Pride. It’s been a journey of laughter and tears. It’s amazing watching it grow. We have had some wonderful people working with us at H1 over the 20 year period. Some have been with us for many many years. Margaret Gauld (one of H1’s trainers) was there at the beginning with me. We were doing Homecare together and we had known each other from a care home in Aberdeenshire. So yes, it is a wonderful feeling. When you start any business you have no idea how successful it’s going to be. It was an idea that care homes needed quality staff and it just happened.
Could you tell us how H1 Healthcare began?
In 2001 and 2002, I was working as an agency nurse. I used to work for every agency in Aberdeen and then I became a self-employed nurse. I got lots and lots of work and I met some amazing carers, some amazing nurses and that’s when I started to think about starting our own agency. It just seemed to me that the homes in Aberdeenshire were crying out for quality staff and that’s how it started. I continued working as a self-employed nurse until July 2002.
I had a Pay As You Go mobile phone in my pocket, I was incredibly fortunate that the care home operators use to let us book our own staff. That would never happen now. It continued in the July of 2002 and we opened our first office in Banchory Business Centre and I worked in that office on my own for a period of time. On a Tuesday, our youngest daughter Charlotte would come in and run the payroll for me. Sam was at University and he would come in on holidays and help grow it. It was fun; It was very hard work; it was being on call 24/7; we used to take our staff from shifts making sure that the staff got there on time because a lot of the homes were rural and people didn’t have transport. We had an amazing relationship with our clients as well as our staff. That continued from 2002 to probably the middle of 2003. and it was just Sam, Charlotte, and I. And my husband - cannot forget my husband! - who would drive staff as well. He would get up early and take staff here, there, and everywhere.
We also did a bit of home care and at that stage, the home care division was very, very small, but social workers would phone up and see if someone could just go help put someone to bed or get them up. In mid-2003 we took on someone else that the family knew and started to grow the business and it absolutely started to take off. We had such fun! It was just incredible. I can remember we use to put ads in the newspapers in Aberdeen for carers and we put “AGY” to say we were an agency and we had all these calls asking for someone called Agy! We arranged interviews in offices in Aberdeen and we had loads of people attending. There was one of our nurses dressed in a uniform meeting and greeting. We had such fun and that’s when we got a huge amount of staff from those interviews and our recruitment process from it which is really good.
What are some of your favourite memories from over the last 20 years?
The fun we have had with our teams. For me personally, it is known as my journey of laughter and tears. I personally have made so many good friends, both the carers and the nurses. I always say to people once you get to know me, I’m like the proverbial penny because I don’t go away, I’m always around. I’ve met some incredibly interesting people during this journey. The pleasure has been watching people grow and develop. That has been wonderful. And seeing our children develop as part of the business. I’m so proud of them because that's probably something they wouldn’t have chosen to do. We all love the business. We are all so incredibly proud of it and incredibly proud of the people who work with us. We wouldn’t have this business without everyone else because it is a team. Everyone contributes in different ways. That is so important to acknowledge and remember.
As a company grows it has its ups and downs, it’s hard. When the company was started it was to provide a service of exceptional quality to both our staff and to our clients and everyone who worked within H1 Healthcare. Sometimes when a business grows you lose that, you lose a little bit of the personal touch and it’s important to try to retain the values and vision that the company started with.
What do you see as H1 Healthcare’s biggest accomplishments over the last 20 years?
Growing to the extent it has. Growing an amazing team who are so dedicated, committed makes Sam and I so incredibly proud. I hope you feel as if you have joined a large family. And that you feel valued. Because it’s really important as we all spend the majority of our time at work, don’t we? You need to feel comfortable. I would hate it if anyone had a knot in their tummy on a Monday morning thinking “Oh god I have to go to work today.” I think great culture is vital in a company no matter how large or small you are. And for people to be approachable for you to ask anything. There is no reason why you cannot have fun and still achieve what you need to do.
I think technology has played a big part in it. Back in 2002 I remember not knowing what a job board was. I hadn’t even sent an email before 2002. I remember being in the office on my own in 2003 on a Wednesday afternoon. I had all this information to submit to the bank by 3 O’clock in the afternoon for payroll and I had all these time sheets scattered over the floor! I had no idea how to use excel, so I hand-wrote all these time sheets - there must have been about 30 and I remember it was about ten to three and being virtually in tears because I had to get them in on time to get everyone paid!
I got them all done and submitted but by the following week I had someone do it for me as I knew I couldn’t do that. I will happily admit my strengths but also my weaknesses.
Now our amazing finance team payroll hundreds of people every day and there’s a new mobile app to submit timesheets and manage shifts.
So the biggest accomplishments in the last 20 years are growth and seeing the business expand throughout Scotland and into England and adopt technology. And seeing the right people in the right place to help get the business to the next stage because it’s the people who will continue growing it. You’re all integral to the companies growth.
When you started H1 Healthcare 20 years ago, did you still think it would be running 20 years later?
Yes. Honestly, I thought it would be on the stock market! I am delighted it is going strong and growing so well.
Is there anything you would have done differently with H1 Healthcare if you had a second chance to relive the last 20 years?
Masses upon masses of things. It wasn’t until 2007/2008 I realised we weren’t just a provider of care, we were a recruitment company.
Life is a journey and we all make mistakes and learn from them. Starting and growing a business is exactly the same – but ten times as much! Any good business owner will have been on that journey and it is making those mistakes and learning how to overcome them and be better that forges any successful business
If you could go back in time and give yourself 20 years ago some advice, what would it be?
I would say listen to the advice I was given because, sometimes, I didn’t. Life is a learning curve. I learn something new every single day. Having said that, I don’t think I’d swap it. I feel incredibly privileged to have a strong company that has survived and thrived in such turbulent times. We have shown our best during the pandemic and are looking forward to the next stage of growth.
Where do you see H1 Healthcare in the next 20 years?
It will thrive, it will grow throughout the UK. We will be a strong brand and be a well-respected healthcare workforce business. Though we are different from other agencies, we look at it as putting the right people in the right shifts and not just filling a shift. We understand the sector. We grow relationships with our clients. We still have relationships with clients from many many years ago when we started. And technology will play an increasingly important role in enabling that growth and the high-quality service we provide to our clients and our frontline colleagues. The potential is incredible.
What is the best piece of leadership advice you’ve been told/could give?
Not to be too nice. I didn’t take any notice anyway as I wasn’t going to change, but that was probably the best piece of advice.
Before our final question, I just wanted to know - Forgetting the pandemic and Covid for a second, if you could instantly fly all your nurses & healthcare staff, internal staff, etc to any destination to celebrate the 20th anniversary together, where would you take them?
Australia. I had never ever wanted to go there but Sam opened up our office in Sydney in 2013 so we went and spent two weeks out there with him and it was wonderful! I would love to take everyone over to Australia to say thank you for everything you have done for the business. Your hard work, commitment, dedication, and your faith in us. Your faith in Sam and I through good times and hard times.
Is there a message or anything you’d like to say to those who have been within H1 Healthcare at any point over the last 20 years?
I would like to thank everybody who has worked with us and still does work with us, thank you for everything. For your faith, your trust, and your commitment to the company and we are so proud of you all.
Some words from Margaret Gauld, the very first H1 Healthcare employee - still a part of the H1 Family to this very day.
“I worked with Pam at Hillside Nursing Home in Banchory, we both did shifts for Allied when I went to NHS but lost contact. I left NHS in September 2002 and met Pam the day after in the supermarket. Healthcare is a vast industry but quite a tight-knit one and everyone knows what is happening. I was unaware that Pam had started the Business, but she knew that I had left my employment with NHS. I went for a coffee that Thursday afternoon and found myself filling in the application and the disclosure. I was working on the Monday afternoon having received my disclosure that morning. In the beginning, we covered anything that was put or way.
Pam had a paper diary and a pay-as-you-go mobile phone. The office was very small with a desk filing and stationery cabinet. The first holiday she had the phone and diary went too and she was not passing it onto anyone else. We had many good times. The business was an extended family and in the early years, we all knew one another. As the business grew Pam still knew most of the staff. I went on to interviewing, compliance and delivering training. She would often come into training sessions to meet the candidates. We all missed her smiling face when she relocated to England but still appeared in Aberdeen on a regular basis. Pam is always there for her staff and over the years has been a great support. I cannot believe it is 20 years.
Pam’s immediate family have all played a part in the business, Ron her husband transporting people to shifts on public holidays, snowy weather conditions, or people who did not drive and we had a shift to cover which was not supported by public transport. Although he does not like to be the center of attention, he was a star.
I wish Sam and Pam all the best for the future.”
We are incredibly grateful for being able to speak to Pam and Margaret about their memories of H1 Healthcare over the last 20 years. It is important to remember that regardless of when you join a company or how big or small your role is, you help the company grow and thrive. With H1 Healthcare you are part of something bigger because H1 Healthcare is Family.