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Kathryn Murphy

After 24 years in the U.S. Navy as a registered nurse and a five-year stint as director of health services at Mayo Health Plan, Kathryn Murphy was searching for a business that put her nursing and leadership skills to use. She saw financial possibilities in buying a Jacksonville franchise of Comfort Keepers and purchased the in-home care franchise with the help of an SBA loan in 2002. As the field of senior care has expanded, her firm has grown from a staff of two to more than 75. She bought a second Comfort Keepers in Jacksonville five years later.

“The demographics are all in my favor,” Murphy says. “We’re in an aging society, and Florida has a higher than the national average number of seniors.” With intense competition in the industry, Murphy says some of the home health agencies in the area didn’t survive the recession. “We think we made the right decisions not to be the fastest-growing or biggest, but to be the best.”

Buying a franchise gave Murphy an advantage in terms of trademarks, a logo, budgeting and strategic planning, she says. However, she hasn’t been timid about seeking support from the Small Business Development Center at the University of North Florida for guidance on future growth. “Health care is changing, and running a business is getting more and more challenging,” she says.

While the majority of her business comes from seniors, Murphy says she is trying to expand her scope of services, marketing her caregivers to adults who have surgery or need help even for a short time to remain safe at home or marketing in-home safety inspections.

In 2011, Murphy was selected as the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Woman Champion of the Year for both north Florida and the state. Last year, the Florida Commission on the Status of Women recognized her for her contributions in the enrichment of women business owners and volunteer work with young women in her community.

For Murphy, the greatest business challenge this year is hiring qualified caregivers. “I can train them with skills, but I can’t train motivation.”