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Consumer Direct in Missoula plans new jobs to fulfill $500M contract in Washington

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Posted at 8:15 AM, Dec 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-13 10:15:24-05

MISSOULA — Consumer Direct of Missoula plans to add 35 new jobs in the coming year as it scales up to manage a new home healthcare contract in the state of Washington, one that will grow its list of caregivers by roughly 20,000 people.

Ben Bledsoe, CEO of the Consumer Direct Care Network, said Thursday that most of those new jobs will be based at the company’s Missoula headquarters and pay at or above the median wage of $18.65 an hour.

“A lot of that goes here because it’s where our headquarters is and it’s where our scaleable systems are,” Bledsoe said. “We’ll continue to scale that growth for the future.”

The new positions include technology, project management, accounting, and sales and marketing.

In September, Consumer Direct secured its $500 million contract in Washington to oversee caregivers and clients in the state’s southern region. The contract requires the company to ensure that caregivers are paid for their services, and that clients receive appropriate services.

The Washington contract follows one secured a year earlier in the state of Virginia. While Consumer Direct had just 40 employees on its payroll back in 1996, it now pays more than 43,000 caregivers.

The new contract makes Consumer Direct one of the largest national home healthcare providers in the country.

“We’re growing by another 60% in the next year and a half,” said Bledsoe. “When that volume comes on board, we have to go fully active by July 2021. It’s a massive move for us, and a lot of it has to do with our reputation.”

The company was founded in Missoula in the 1990s and has weathered changes in the healthcare industry, including the aging population and how healthcare funding is administered. The latest trend has shifted to what Bledsoe described as a fiscal employer model of care.

“We set them up with their own employer of sorts – it gives people receiving services more choice, control and independence,” he said. “We know the population is aging, and there’s a huge gap in home care for healthcare. We’ll be employing 20,000 people in Washington. They’ll be on our books.”

Consumer Direct sought and received approval from Missoula County on Thursday to apply for another round of job creation grants from the Montana Department of Commerce. Known as the Big Sky Trust Fund, the program reimburses a portion of a company’s costs when it creates new high-paying jobs.

Consumer Direct has used the funding in past years to fill dozens of new jobs, and it has directed the grant to cover costs associated with software upgrades, capital investments and office furniture.

“Without the grant, we would not have been as successful as we have been,” Bledsoe said. “We’re getting more of that retention here in Missoula. We remain committed to this community. It’s where these types of opportunities help us.”

The grants are managed locally by the Missoula Economic Partnership, which has worked to bring more high-paying jobs to the community as part of its approach to economic development.

Nicole Rush with MEP said Consumer Direct is a valuable community asset, and having its headquarters located in Missoula helps recruit similar businesses.

“It’s a type of company we definitely want to see more of in Missoula,” she said. “In economic development, it’s recognized that having headquarter companies increases you overall competitiveness nationally in terms of attracting similar types of companies and workers to the region.”

While most of the new jobs will be located in Missoula, the company will invest outside the state to fulfill the requirements of its new Washington contract. The lack of multi-lingual employees in Missoula has always been a challenge, Bledsoe said.

“We’re still going to add quite a few positions to our contact center here, but in Washington, they require we have eight languages represented in the contact center,” Bledsoe said. “We’re not going to find those in Missoula, so we had to move some of that over there.”

Earlier this year, Consumer Direct announced its plans to expand its new campus off North Reserve Street, where it currently employs around 350 people. Bledsoe said the company still has plans to build the $10 million addition, though that will likely wait until it fulfills its Washington contract.

“In our future we hope to expand that building,” he said. “We’re waiting on this Washington award to see where that takes us. With any further growth, we’d likely have to break ground on another building.”