Longtime nurse finds fulfilling career, business success with Nurse Next Door home care franchise

Janet Plastow started her career in health care tending to her cherished grandmother before she was even out of high school. She moved on to long-term and home care nursing, consulting for health care systems and co-ownership of a disability services company in Toronto. But when her mother fell ill in 2009, she took time off to care for her and found she no longer wanted to care for people in need from behind a desk. She now owns the Nurse Next Door franchise in Brantford, Ont., a city of 90,000 just west of Hamilton, where she is rapidly building her business. “Nurse Next Door just jumped out at me. It spoke to my heart,” she says. “I jumped in with both feet and haven’t regretted it.”

What were you doing before Nurse Next Door?
When I was very young, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, who lived on her own until her late 90s. She was from Ireland, and I remember she would roll up her little rug in front of the TV and dance to the Irish Rovers (a Canadian Irish folk group). So even in my teens, I did candy-striping, as they called it then.

Then right after high school, I went into nursing and did that for a number of years, in home care and long-term care. Then I moved off into occupational health and safety for different companies, helping them with their health and safety needs. I worked in that arena as a consultant, then was manager of OHS for a large manufacturing firm in Hamilton for seven years or so. In 2005, I became a partner with Banyan Work Health Solutions out of Toronto, a company that provides health management services for companies.

I was still working there in 2009 when my mum, Faye, got sick. She began having some serious circulation issues that eventually required the amputation of her left leg. So she went from being extremely independent to having the carpet pulled out from under her. And I was living an extremely hectic lifestyle, working 15 hours a day, plus tending to my mum’s needs, and I learned firsthand about the toll a parent’s illness can take on the children, too. There was just a lot going on, so I stepped away for a few months to take care of Mum, then went back and did consulting work for the company.

But my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I really missed the one-on-one impact I had. While I was caring for Mum, I saw some great things but some huge gaps in the system — some great nurses and wonderful professionals but too much task-oriented care and huge workloads because of dwindling provincial budgets for health care. I just got to the point in my career where I felt the need to make a change. So I went back to floor nursing in Long Term Care, then to director of care position, but I still felt I wasn’t in the right spot. I wanted to make more of an impact, so I began looking into starting a home care business myself.

How did you find out about Nurse Next Door?
I just did some research online — What would this look like? What companies are out there? — and I found a lot that just seemed very medical and task-oriented, not the sort of thing I was looking for at all. When I came across Nurse Next Door, they struck me as completely different. I kept going back to the (web) site. They just really spoke to me because it seemed they grasped the nature of the issue for seniors and home care — that it’s not just about the tasks but about what kinds of things are folks missing from their lives: enjoyment, happiness, celebrating life, plus allowing daughters to be daughters, which totally spoke to me. I’ve talked to some of these families, some having cared for their parents for years, and there’s lot of guilt there because they just can’t handle it anymore.

What came through from Nurse Next Door was their passion — reflected in everything from the pink colors on their site to the photos of the clients to John DeHart in his videos. The whole thing was very warm and passionate and lively, not these pictures of someone in wheelchair. It had a totally different vibe.

What sets Nurse Next Door apart?
I think it’s really about the core values. You really don’t see that much out in the field with other home care providers. It’s really about finding out who that person is and making a plan that encompasses all of his or her needs, not just, ‘OK, bath from 9 to 9:30.’ That’s one thing I’ve found with caregivers: You can tell right off the bat that this really speaks to them or they’re just looking for a job. My team of caregivers is passion personified. They love doing what they do, and you can see it in everything they do.

How large is the need for your service?
It’s just growing exponentially. There are services out there for sure, but also big gaps and not enough funding or beds to meet the need of this growing senior population. The senior population makes up about 13 percent in the Brantford area, and that’s expected to double in the next 15 to 20 years. I spend a lot of time just talking to folks about what the options are, how to provide or augment what services they have to allow them to stay in their homes as long as they want to be there. A lot of people don’t realize there really aren’t any regulations or standards for home care in Canada, and they need to be educated on what to look for in a home care provider.

What does your typical day look like?
I’m on my own, so I’m quite busy. I’d say my average day is 10 or 11 hours. I do a lot of community liaising in addition to reviewing caregiver résumés, conducting interviews with them, making calls to clients and potential clients … But there’s no one “typical day.” Yesterday, for example, I did a caring consult for a new client, then went Christmas caroling in the afternoon. I had some staff who were interested in volunteering their time, and we went out with Santa hats and little pink boas and some small gifts and sang carols to some of our clients. It was lovely. And then I was at the hospital, checking on a client who was in Emergency because she wasn’t feeling well and has no family in the area. I was there ’til 1 in the morning. It’s a busy schedule. But it’s worth the time and effort. I love what I do.

How does your service change your clients’ lives?
It changes their lives in a number of ways, from the seemingly very small things to end-of-life care. One client I have has this amazing garden. She was out there tending her garden constantly, feeding the birds, setting water out for them, caring for her plants. She’s in her late 70s. This past summer, she called and said, “I’m having trouble tending my garden.” So we went eight or nine times and helped her plant and tend her garden because she couldn’t do it nonstop like she used to. So she was able to enjoy her garden, which is her joy in life. It makes a huge difference. She doesn’t need medical care, just someone to help her keep up her garden. She still calls when she needs something. She sent me some of her crabapple jelly yesterday!

Then there’s the other side: palliative care. Another of our clients this summer was a woman who said she wanted her mother, who was in palliative care, to come home. The daughter was still working, so she was up all night caring for her mum, and she wasn’t able to cope any more. So we put in 24-hour service, and when she came home she was able to be a daughter, not a caregiver. We cared for her for about eight weeks before she passed in October. In both of those cases, we were able to make lives better — in the first, the client, and in the second, the client and family. That’s what we’re about. It’s a privilege to be able to provide this kind of service.

What qualities should a Nurse Next Door franchise partner have?
There are some pretty obvious things — a caring heart, a willingness to work hard, good organizational skills. Those are good qualities to have no matter what business you’re in. With Nurse Next Door, though, it helps to have a creative mind, too, because we’re allowed, even encouraged, to “find a better way” — think of fresh solutions to specific problems. Also, you have to have enough business acumen to make sure you’re marketing well, keeping the flow of clients going and generally growing the business and making money, but money can’t be why you’re doing this. So it takes someone who’s good at doing what it takes to turn a profit but doesn’t see profit as his or her reason for being. That’s a tricky balancing act, but the folks who can find it and live it are the ones who do incredibly well with Nurse Next Door and end up being real assets to their communities, too.


Would you recommend a Nurse Next Door franchise to someone else? Why?
Oh, I would, absolutely. Look at it this way: You’ve got a sustainable, affordable small business opportunity; a great company that really cares about its franchise partners and clients as people, not just as partners and customers; a unique care model that’s done incredibly well in Canada, where people have the option of taxpayer-funded, universal health care but are still willing to pay for Nurse Next Door’s services; a market that’s just now beginning to explode and will continue to expand for the next 20 to 25 years, minimum; and the chance to make a real difference in people’s lives. How often do you get that kind of opportunity? You work long hours, believe me, and it’s not always easy work, physically or emotionally. But when it’s this fulfilling, you find you don’t mind. You do what it takes, and you’re happy to do it. That’s the difference.