Nicole Laborde was a teenager when she arrived from Haiti with her mother, in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood, in 1986. Soon after learning English in high school and through television, Laborde had to figure out what to make of her life and career.
After graduating from the now-defunct Prospect Heights High School in Crown Heights and working multiple food service jobs, Laborde enrolled in a five-week nursing assistant training program. It would prove to be the first step in realizing her calling.
“I decided that I would work full-time as a nursing assistant, again thinking, ‘what is my path, what is my purpose,” said Laborde, who now resides in Coram, New York, with her husband Capenter Laborde and their two children, Shaena and Sheldon. “I did promise myself that I needed to better myself, that I was not going to stay as a nursing assistant.”
Over nearly 30 years, Laborde has parlayed her job as a nursing assistant caring for people into her own home health agency, Ideal Home Care, and a companion training school in Hauppauge. Between the two enterprises, she has served thousands of clients and students, immigrants and non-immigrants alike. Now, with President Joe Biden’s social policy proposals being negotiated in Congress — including $400 billion to expand home care and increase wages for employees in the sector — Laborde has said she sees an opportunity to expand even further.
“This will fuel more service provider opportunities in home health care, while setting up a demand for even more workers,” Laborde told the Wall Street Journal this year, in reference to the bill.
From nursing assistant to business owner
For many immigrants, providing home health care is a first job in the U.S. When Laborde and her mother Teresa Cleozier arrived in Brooklyn — joining her father, the late Gebert Cleozier, and her two older siblings — Laborde also joined the industry. She first worked in private homes and nursing facilities, starting as a nursing assistant.
These days, Laborde helps immigrants get their start in the home care field through her agency. People like Youseline Lafontant, who immigrated from Haiti in 2010, and graduated from Ideal School of Allied Health Care, the school Laborde founded, last year.
“When I met Nicole, she said, ‘Come join me at my school,’” said Lafontant, 45, a Wyandanch, New York resident who met Laborde at New Birth Christian Church, in West Babylon. “I’m a full woman because now I’m working, I’m paying the bills, I’m helping my husband.”
For Laborde, working her way up to helping others get their start was a long journey. First, she had to balance her nursing assistant job with schooling, eventually earning credentials to become a licensed practical nurse from the Vocational Education and Extension Board, in Nassau County. For about eight years, Laborde said she worked in private households and nursing homes. She also enrolled in a bridge program at SUNY Stony Brook to become a registered nurse, at the advice of a colleague, and worked in area hospitals.
In 2009, Laborde recalls, she laid the foundations for Ideal Home Care in 2009, working in her home basement during her free time. But she said her last full-time job before completely striking out on her own was in 2010, at Stony Brook University Hospital.
“People were coming to us and asking, ‘my mother is getting discharged, I don’t know what to do,’” said Laborde, recalling the stress she saw at the hospital where she worked. “I decided I could also make a difference in the community that I work in, in the community that I live in.”
The idea of having a companion agency seemed to be an effective option to help patients and newcomers during their stressful moments, she said.
Starting both the agency and school meant that Laborde spent long hours in her basement, after 12-hour shifts at the hospital, while raising her two young children. Laborde said she had to learn, largely on her own, how to obtain proper licensing, insurance and background checks for employees.
“I would come home around 8:30, 9 o’clock and I would get on my computer and start researching for hours,” Laborde said. “It was a lot of research, a lot of trials, a lot of errors.”
Ideal Home Care currently serves more than 100 clients in the Long Island counties of Nassau and Suffolk and employs 200 people. Launched in 2013, the affiliated Ideal School has enrolled more than 500 aspiring home health aides and now brings in over $6 million in annual revenue.
Laborde also teaches at Ideal School.
Lafontant, a former student, acknowledged her dedication. “She is very patient, she comes in early to the classroom every day,” Lafontant said. “The classroom [environment] is very comfortable.”
Setting an example for fellow immigrants in health care to keep achieving, Laborde said, is how she hopes to make a lasting impact in the field.
“When they come, they not only come to take the home health aide program, but they work and they come back, they become nursing assistants, they become medical assistants,” Laborde said. “This is the impact that I think I make when they know, ‘yes she is the owner, yes she’s an immigrant, yes she speaks Creole fluently.’”
Looking ahead, the surge in demand for home care amid the COVID-19 pandemic, along with federal assistance, could help the training school expand to new locations. Once again, Laborde is thinking of ways to continue pursuing her purpose to benefit others.
“We want to go to the Nassau County-Queens border area,” Laborde said. “We want to expand because of this huge need in the sector. [And] we are seeing more and more people who are looking for home care services.”
This story is published in partnership with the URL Media Network and is produced with funding from the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund.