Mother’s longtime illness inspired franchise partner to devote career to elder care
Drew Ratcliffe of White Rock, B.C., founded his Nurse Next Door franchise in 2007 after a long career in geriatric medicine, which has always been a calling for Drew. He was 4 when his mother, Jane, suffered a brain aneurysm that left her wheelchair-bound and unable to speak. Jane still lives with Drew, 39, his wife and four children in White Rock, a seaside community about 25 miles southeast of Vancouver where one in four residents is a senior. His life’s passion intersects perfectly with a market that’s already big and getting bigger.
What were you doing before Nurse Next Door?
I was working in elder care in both private and public practice before I joined Nurse Next Door. I worked as a rehab therapist for a while, then as a case manager for both public and private medical facilities. Immediately preceding Nurse Next Door, I was consulting, going to families and advising them on elder care, clinical skills, that sort of thing. I’ve been involved in elder care, though, for 35 years. My mother, Jane, tragically suffered a brain aneurysm when I was four years old. So my career has somewhat come full circle. What I do at Nurse Next Door is an extension of what I’ve done for her for 35 years. She lives with my wife and family and four kids. We have a little self-contained wing for her; she’s been here 13, 14 years. She can’t walk, and her communication is mostly nonverbal; she spends her waking hours in a wheelchair.
(Jane’s illness) certainly led me to the health care field generally, but I think more specifically it taught me about home care and how much more valuable it can be for someone who’s incapacitated. My (maternal) grandfather was the first doctor in Canada to prescribe penicillin, and my grandmother had a medical background, too, so they took her in. In the ’70s, the idea of a doctor looking after someone in the home better than the Canadian health care system was a novel concept. So from an early age, this was all I knew. i realized early that a complex medical situation could not only be handled in a home environment but outstrip anything the institutional model of care could offer … The home care model may not be for everyone, but there are a lot of positives and innovations that can happen in the home environment. It’s really all I’ve known.
How did you find out about Nurse Next Door?
I’ve known John DeHart for years, since not long after he founded Nurse Next Door (in 2001). We’d cross paths, and I certainly knew what he was doing. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a franchise opportunity, but I could identify with what Nurse Next Door was trying to do on a much broader basis than what anybody could do on their own. In this case, the franchise system allows Nurse Next Door to get services to clients much more effectively and with a more uniform standard of quality than you’d get with a series of startups. I also agreed with their policy platform. I realized the home care space was in dire need of someone to take the bull by the horns and get some standards for this kind of care in the home.
What sets Nurse Next Door apart?
There’s a bigger picture than just business success. Yes, we’re a business, and yes, we’re there to make money, but overriding all of that — I know it’s a cliche — is to make a difference. Having been around this business for long time, you don’t see that very often.
How large is the need for your service in your area and in general?
In my area, I would say it’s tremendously important. White Rock, my little community, we’re where all the forecasters say Canada’s going to be in 10 to 15 years: a country where one in four people are seniors. So I’m kind of like a living lab for these systems and Canadian health care. So how do we meet those needs? The simplest way to answer that question is that the need is huge.
Describe your clientele: How many clients do you have, and what’s the usual age range?
We generally hover around the 50-client mark. They’re about as heterogeneous a group as you can imagine. The majority are certainly seniors — some octogenarians, over 80 — but also some young working adults who have come into an accident of some kind and need private duty nursing. Because Nurse Next Door has always provided that full spectrum of care, from a little help to a whole lot of help, there’s a lot of people who need personal care assistance to get off to work or school who aren’t necessarily seniors.
What does your typical day look like?
I start early, around 6, and put in an hour looking ahead at the day. Then I get the kids off to school, and then I’m back at it by 8:30. After that, even the best-laid plans can get disrupted by client calls, caregiver issues, anything. Some days are purely meeting with clients, others involve meeting with care and referral sources. I always spend a healthy amount of time with clients’ families, learning the family dynamic around the client. Some days — like, today’s my daughter’s 15th birthday, so I’ll pick her up from school, and owning a Nurse Next Door franchise gives you the ability to do that. Then sometimes, the client will call on Saturday night needing help, and off you go. Most days, though, I work until 5, 5:30, although I usually take work home with me.
How does your service change your clients’ lives? Can you give examples?
The short and sweet answer is that we bring clients peace of mind. What we do has a clinical scope, but when we look at the client as a member of a family, a daughter, a son, a sister, what we do is provide peace of mind to those family members and the assurance that their loved one is receiving real caring, not just health care. And that has a huge effect on those families’ lives. There was one client who we worked with for six weeks — the guy was terminal, and he had estranged family members on both coasts. Now, every year on the anniversary of his death, we get a card from one side of the family. They’ve called us an “undersold team of caring magicians,” and they say things like, “Words do not cover our gratitude.” That’s what we do.
What qualities do you think a successful Nurse Next Door franchise partner must have?
As with any business, you’ve got to have knowledge, character and energy. At Nurse Next Door, we put a premium on the character side of things. In terms of energy, you can’t have that employee mentality where you’re going to be watching the clock, take your lunch and coffee breaks and be done with it. Not in our world. That doesn’t work with home care. It’s getting to the point where if I’m in front of a client, I can say with certainty that I’m providing the same level of commitment and care that I would if I was doing it for my own family. If you keep your eyes focused on that, you can’t go wrong.
What does franchise ownership allow you to do in your personal life that you couldn’t before (more time with your children, hobbies, etc.)?
It gives me the flexibility, the work-life balance, although it still is a challenge, granted. It also provides me with pride in ownership, because I’m able to extend what I’ve known for 35 years in my own family to my clients and achieve a level of satisfaction that we truly are making a difference.
Would you recommend a Nurse Next Door franchise to someone? Why?
Yes, because I think the opportunity is next to limitless. From a business standpoint, you have an opportunity to build a sizable and sustainable business that’s recession-proof, if you will. For someone who understands values and gets that it’s more than dollars and cents, then it’s the best gig out there. You get to meet people at the most stressful time in their lives and really get in there and make a difference, and that’s not something you’re going to get at the restaurant down the street.
For more information about Nurse Next Door White Rock visit Drew Ratcliffe’s franchise site.