Business Q & A

Five questions with Doug Stark, president, Comfort Care Homes

Doug Stark is president of Comfort Care Homes, which provides care for the elderly with dementia in eight homes.

The business was founded by his parents, Charles and Mary Lou Stark, in 1993. Charles Stark is a longtime businessman in Wichita, and he and Doug Stark had been Little Caesars franchisees. The Stark family developed the business out of their shared personal experience caring for Charles Stark’s parents, who had dementia.

Three years ago Doug Stark also became a franchisee of Comfort Keepers, an in-home non-medical care provider.

Stark, 54, graduated from the University of Kansas. He is married to Kathi, and they have four children.

1. What got the business started?

“Both of my grandparents in the 80s developed dementia. We’re a third-generation Wichita family, and we just did everything we could caring for them because we just did not like the options. The options then were very sterile so, when they passed, my folks went up to the state and in ’92 and asked for their blessing in trying to create a more dignified alternative for people with Alzheimer’s.”

2. How are your facilities different from a nursing home?

“Most people with Alzheimer’s don’t need skilled care, they need behavioral care. They need somebody to make sure they are taking their meds, that their psycho-social needs are being met, meaning that they are not just sitting there staring at the wall — but usually they’re not on feeding tubes or that kind of thing. . . . Since we care for only six people (per home), we don’t have to change their lifestyle. We market ourselves as more of a change of address than a change in lifestyle.”

3. The demographics favor your business, don’t they?

“People ask me all the time: ‘Why do so many more people seem to have dementia now?’ . . . It’s just a matter for actuaries. The fastest growing group is 65 and above, and one of 10 people over 65 have Alzheimer’s. If you get to 85, and right now with the advances in medicine a lot of people are getting to 85, almost 47.5 percent, nearly every other person, will have some form of dementia.”

4. You’ve had spectacular growth in the past. Are you still growing?

“I’m just starting the process of looking for another home this year. Last week I had to turn somebody away, and I just hate that. But actually, the majority of our growth is through licensing. I have a licensee in Kansas City . . . I have one in Omaha, Neb. I had someone who was here all day Monday and who wants to open one in Pittsburg, Kan. And I have one that is under construction as we speak in Baldwin (City), Kan.”

5. Dealing with Alzheimer’s patients doesn’t bother you?

“I talk to families all the time, and they will explain Dad’s behavior or Mom’s behavior and they think they are going to shock me. In 17 years, there is nothing I haven’t seen or heard.”