Success in business is no guarantee — even when the service need is so huge one can drive an 18-wheeler through it. Or, in this case, an ambulatory vehicle.
The shortage of medical staffing across the United States has been widely chronicled, and projections for the future are troubling. An example: According to one 2018 study, 2.3 million new health care workers will be need by 2025 to keep pace with the aging population.
The situation is magnified throughout the U.S. military, where military medical personnel are often deployed overseas, heightening the national shortage of physicians, nurses and staff personnel.
Enter Rockledge-based Luke and Associates, a company that isn’t merely helping to fill voids, it’s thriving.
Founded in 2004, the company provides a wide range of health care services and medical research/development to all branches of the military and soldiers’ families, along with the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration treatment facilities domestically and in Europe. Also, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been a contract partner, as have the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency and the Centers for Disease Control, in addition to other government and commercial entities.
Regarding comprehensive medical care to military families, for instance, services range from preventive medicine to behavioral science and extend from routine examinations to surgical procedures.
The company’s first contract bid was made in 2005, which was won in 2006. By 2011, there were 1,500 employees.
Today, all totaled, more than 2,500 health care professionals have been placed worldwide at military installations, with the current site count at approximately 60, while care also is available to national, regional and local health care networks.
Further, Luke and Associates provides information management and research expertise to the military and private industry — maintaining a staff of developers, programmers and specialized IT professionals — plus offers a variety of professional services to support the operation of business organizations.
Can anyone say, “successful”?
Yet, it hasn’t happened by accident. In fact, it almost didn’t happen.
Cofounders Jim Barfield and Rich Hall brought business development/consulting and IT/management skills, respectively, to the table. Initially, though, even the backgrounds of those two seasoned professionals weren’t enough.
“We fell flat on our face within the first year,” said Hall, chief financial Officer and chief information officer. “We had to go back to the contract officers and talk to them and lay out a plan: ‘This is exactly how we are going to fix things.’ And we did what we said. The government absolutely respected that, and that was a huge learning process for us.”
“That was a tough meeting for us, too,” recalled Barfield, president and chief executive officer. “We had to tell the government that we’re failing — that we weren’t doing this right, so these are the actions we’re going to take. And I think they were kind of floored that we came to them to tell them. … And we did exactly what we said we were going to do.”
Within the next three years, while policies, processes and procedures still were being tweaked, and the infrastructure still was being built, company revenues climbed from zero to more than $100 million.
“There were significant challenges. … It was daunting,” Hall said. “And Jim and I are very hands on.”
As the company grew, so too did Barfield and Hall professionally. For a time, Barfield left the day-to-day to serve as a Brevard County commissioner, where he expanded his scope and sharpened his vision for the future.
Meanwhile, Hall broadened his business acumen at the company, and his staff similarly rose to the occasion.
“I had my own company before Luke. But when [Barfield] went to be county commissioner, it had to excel me to a level I had never been at before,” Hall said. “So, it was challenging. But to be able to do what we did — our staff is tremendous. I can’t talk enough about them. If it wasn’t for our staff, we would be where we are today.”
For Luke and Associates, spiritual strength also is a factor. The name Luke actually was taken from the Bible.
“The reality is, we’re both very strong in our faith,” said Hall, simply.
In turn, the company views its current 60 military installations as “opportunities” to assist.
“We have our veterans coming back, our military coming back, and we treat them,” said Barfield. “We have all kinds of medical people that work directly with them. So, we have the opportunity to find when there are needs.”
In essence, the company’s mission to help the military, just like its cofounders’ roles in and out of the company, is all about building community.
“Communities are important,” Barfield concluded. “… It’s doing what you can for people. … The old saying that ‘the more you give, the more you receive’ is true.”