An app connecting experienced caregivers to families that have members with special needs will soon be available in Duluth.

The app, called Joshin, helps families schedule “care dates" for their relatives with special needs, which addresses challenges people often face when seeking qualified caregivers. University of Minnesota Duluth alumnae launched the service in the Twin Cities in March, and it will be available to Duluth families likely by January.

“It's definitely a need and very hard to find good caregivers, especially when you have someone that has a special need in your family,” said Sarah McComb, experience manager with Joshin. McComb met founders Melanie Fountaine and Melissa Danielsen during their time at UMD.

Families with family members of any disability or age can use the app, which McComb said they're excited to bring to Duluth, as well as Rochester and St. Cloud.

Before Joshin, twins Melanie Fountaine and Melissa Danielsen founded group home company Josh’s Place in honor of their brother, Josh, who had special needs. The two grew up helping take care of Josh, as their parents worked full time in rural Minnesota where there weren’t many caregivers.

Josh passed away around 10 years ago, and “they just felt a major void and wanted to do something in honor of him,” McComb said. Although both were succeeding in their respective careers – Fountaine was a school counselor and Danielsen was in marketing, business and sales – they left their careers and founded Josh’s Place.

The company, which has around 10 homes and offers numerous services, is being sold at the end of the month so they can pursue managing and growing Joshin full time.

“Through that company is where they saw the need for more on-demand (caretakers) because everything is at your finger (tips) … but really there weren't any options for care,” McComb said.

The need for caregivers is prominent across the nation, including in Duluth. With low unemployment rates coupled with a shortage of caretakers, families can find it challenging to locate experienced people to take care of their family members.

“There's just a lot of the caregiver burnout, either with hiring caregivers or just the parents needing a break and having no one to turn to. It's hard asking for family to help all the time. So this just makes it easy,” McComb said.

Caregivers – also called joymakers – go through an interview, background check, social media check, and must have at least one year of experience working in elder or special needs care.

Even with low unemployment rates, McComb said it’s not difficult to find people to apply for caretaking positions on the app, as the hours are flexible and the average pay ranges from $16 to $22 an hour. And they target graduate students studying speech or occupational therapy, teachers, parents and social workers to serve as caretakers.

The first step for families interested in the app is to download it and then fill out a care plan. The plan includes information about the family member's medication, diagnosis, what they like and don’t like, adaptive equipment, speech abilities and more.

Before entering payment information, families can see caregivers in their area. They also have control over who they reach out to and when.

“They all come on very skeptical and hesitant because they never ever hired a stranger (or) someone that they've never met before,” McComb said. “After that first care date, our rebooking rate is like 97%.”

When a family reaches out to a caregiver, the caregiver can choose whether to accept the care date request based on their own abilities or experiences. And when everything aligns, a “care date” is scheduled. During the date, caregivers can update the app with activity or medication information.

“The family can log in when they're away ... and just have that ease and comfort level,” McComb said.

After the date is finished, families can rate caregivers, leave feedback and add a tip. Low ratings and poor feedback are used for quality control, and the service can remove low-performing caregivers.

It costs users $49 per month or $99 for three months, which can be paid for with Medicaid.

They hope to have the app launched in Duluth by January. Right now, McComb said they’re working to spread the word about the app and are signing up a team of caregivers.

The Duluth launch comes as Joshin is quickly expanding to dozens of cities across the country, including Los Angeles, Denver, Austin, and Tampa. It’s seen success in the Twin Cities, as around 500 caretakers and families use the service.