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Nursing home staff shortages prompted YSPH alumna to form two companies

March 21, 2024
by Kailey Seiler

Profiles in Public Health Innovation: Kayla Wooley, MPH ’21 (Health Care Management)

Kayla Wooley, MPH ’21 (health care management), hadn’t planned on going into senior care, let alone becoming a CEO; she entered Boston College as an undergraduate working toward a career as an elementary school teacher.

Instead, Wooley – whose family has over 60 years of experience in nursing home management – developed a passion for working in senior care, and in June 2017 became a nursing home administrator in Rhode Island. In September 2018, she became director of business development for Apple Rehab, an Avon, Connecticut, firm that specializes in short-term care and long-term facilities; it owns 25 skilled nursing facilities throughout Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Today, she is founder and CEO of StaffOnTap and Nurse Ranger, two SaaS (software as a service) platforms that help health care companies optimize nursing home staffing.

As a part of its Innovation Exchange Speaker Series, InnovateHealth Yale (IHY) recently sat down with Wooley to discuss a key tenet of startup success: founder-market fit – the alignment between a startup’s founders and their target market. Wooley said her intimate knowledge of the senior care industry provided a solid foundation for her to innovate effectively.

Especially being a non-technical founder, I didn’t jump into outsourcing a $30,000 platform because I wouldn’t have known what I was looking for. I didn’t know what languages I wanted it coded in. I didn’t know any of that.

Kayla Wooley

During her time at the senior care facility in Rhode Island, she found joy in engaging with the residents and enhancing their quality of life. However, that’s where she first encountered persistent staffing shortages. Later on, at Apple Rehab, these shortages were intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges prevented her from implementing strategic programs and subsequently inspired her to pursue entrepreneurial solutions in this sector.

Eager to take action, Wooley launched StaffOnTap in May 2022, while completing her MBA in entrepreneurial and small business operations at Cornell University. With no technical skills, she built a basic minimum viable product (MVP) website to test assumptions quickly. An MVP contains enough features to attract early-adopter customers and validate a product idea early in the product development cycle.

“Especially being a non-technical founder, I didn’t jump into outsourcing a $30,000 platform because I wouldn’t have known what I was looking for,” she said. “I didn’t know what languages I wanted it coded in. I didn’t know any of that.”

Seeing the value of starting simple with an MVP to test assumptions before investing heavily in technology is something many entrepreneurs struggle with. But within months, Wooley onboarded her first nurse and began to see the potential of her flexible staffing model.

Following the success of StaffOnTap, Wooley realized an even bigger problem in the industry: nursing homes often work with multiple staffing agencies, requiring separate legal contracts and scheduling systems. This fragmentation leads to complicated layers of administrative oversight, potential liability issues, and risks of employing staff with outdated credentials or without proper background checks.

“While I was building StaffOnTap, I was able to identify this bigger problem with the industry that led me to (building) Nurse Ranger,” she said.

Nurse Ranger, which she founded in August 2023, aims to streamline and consolidate nursing home staffing management, while also addressing operational inefficiencies, compliance, and quality control issues within the sector. Wooley’s background in senior care gave her a unique perspective on the industry’s staffing crisis and served as a crucial mechanism informing her approach to entrepreneurship. Being intimately familiar with the industry from the ground up, she understood the challenges and the solutions that could truly make an impact. This helped her find her founder-market fit.

“Does the founder’s background and experience match the product and the industry that this product is going into? I think that was my strongest piece going in,” she explained. “I’ve never done a startup before. I was not a technical founder. Coming straight out of grad school, that was the piece that I knew I had to leverage.”

Wooley’s journey from administrator to CEO exemplifies a blending of industry expertise and entrepreneurial acuity. She adeptly recognized the shortcomings in the current system and, without technical expertise, crafted an MVP that addressed a real and pressing need. Her success, she said, is driven by an early ambition to identify her core specialties and what makes her different, and then leverage that information and ability in ways that can help improve existing health care systems.

Visit the IHY website for more conversations with exceptional innovators and to read about past speakers in the Innovation Exchange series. Stay up to date with everything InnovateHealth Yale via its weekly newsletter.

Kailey Seiler, MPH ’24 (social and behavioral sciences), is a student innovation fellow at IHY.

Submitted by Fran Fried on March 20, 2024